Managing Topics on Cake
Winter 2017 - Spring 2018
Launched in the Spring of 2018, Cake is a free service where customers have conversations about anything that fascinates them. They curate their feed by following topics, not users, and can start their own conversations or participate in others around those topics.
There were two use cases we needed to solve. First, we wanted to make sure Cake customers could suggest new topics if they didn’t yet exist. Second, we needed to create a system for Cake admins to review and approve suggested topics, as well as perform adjacent operations like topic merging and deleting. The ultimate goal of this exercise was to set our customers up for success, while also giving admins the ability to determine whether a topic was viable or not before it was made public.
As lead designer on this project, I was responsible for establishing new flows and interactions needed to manage the influx of topics created on the Cake platform. This meant understanding topic creation from both the customer perspective as well as from that of the Cake admin. There was some visual design involved, but I mostly leveraged components and styles already established to create these new flows.
How Cake topics work
Before getting into the flows and interactions I designed for this project, I’d like to explain how topics work in general. When customers start their own conversations on Cake, they can tag them with up to 5 relevant topics. For example, a conversation titled “What are your favorite retro video games?” might be tagged with the topics retro gaming and video games. This means that conversation now lives within both and can be discovered by others who follow those topics.
How customers suggest new topics
When Cake launched in the Spring of 2018, customers could create topics themselves with ease, making new topic pages publicly visible to everyone automatically. One of the problems this created was the abundance of redundant or obscure topics, which tended to either be similar to other existing topics and/or had little to no activity.
To solve this problem, I needed to come up a way to add more friction in the topic creation process. Customers could create them too easily, leading to a more ephemeral experience that wasn’t quite what we intended for the concept. Instead, we forced customers to “suggest” new topics and asked them to confirm this intention. By implementing this “suggestion” flow, we were able to make this action feel more deliberate and reduce the amount of redundant topic creation. Here’s the flow I came up with:
How Cake admins review and approve topics
From the Topics List Page in the Admin Portal, a Cake admin can decide whether the topic seems viable. Viability is determined based on these factors:
Topics must adhere to Cake’s terms of service - If it’s deemed offensive, abusive, or spam, it will be deleted.
Topics must be spelled and phrased correctly - An admin can choose to edit the name of a topic to correct mistakes or clunky phrasing.
Topics shouldn’t be too obscure - It’s important that topics act as communities, and are not only relevant to one or two people.
Topics must be unique from other topics - If two topics are very similar, they can be merged to reduce redundancy and increase visibility of its conversations. Typically a less popular topic would get merged into a more popular one, reassigning all of its conversations and followers to the new one.
If the topic passes these criteria, it will be reviewed and approved by the Cake admin. Here’s how it’s done:
Alternatively, if a Cake admin determines that a topic isn’t viable, they may choose to merge the topic with another or delete it altogether:
In certain cases, topics might need to be merged into others. For example, if the topics retro gaming and vintage video games have shown over time to contain very similar conversations, an admin may choose to merge them to reduce redundancy and concentrate community activity. In this example, because the topic retro gaming is more popular, it can absorb the followers and conversations that currently live within vintage video games, and vintage video games will no longer exist as a topic. Here’s how it’s done:
Sometimes it might be advantageous for an admin to take actions on many topics at once. For example, if there are multiple topics that need to be merged or deleted, they can do so. Here’s how it’s done:
Full context mockups
For the purposes of illustrating some of the flows associated with topics, I chose to streamline some of the mockups. To get a better sense of what the topic screens look like in the Cake Admin Portal, I’ve included some examples below. To learn about some of design challenges associated with Cake Admin Portal as a whole, you can read my write up about it here.
Before implementing the topic suggestion flow, there was a lot of topic redundancy. Managing them was challenging and tedious, requiring admins to wade through a lot of noise. But because we added friction to topic creation, the influx of obscure topics went down. This was a big win.
Ultimately, implementing these new flows allowed admins to make better decisions about whether to approve, delete, or merge topics. The end result was a dramatic reduction in the amount of “dead topics” on the platform, which made the platform feel more alive. This was important while Cake was growing, trying to build communities, and attract new users.