Your Site is Westeros. Your Users Are Pawns in a Game of Thrones

September 13, 2013 | Catharine Robertson & Katie Templin

Game of Thrones detail

We’ve done this once before. For those of you who read Your Site is an Island. Your Users are LOST, you get it. For those of you who didn’t, here’s the gist: What if, rather than imagine them as real people, we tried to imagine our site users as characters on a TV show? We have found that certain TV shows contain user personas instructive to—or at the least entertaining us during—our work as information architects. If a TV show is a website, then its characters are the site’s users. Got it?

This time, we’re keeping it a little more current and focusing on Game of Thrones. SPOILER ALERT: characters and plot in this post are up to date through the finale of Season 3. Be warned.

Here we go.

The Wall & Beyond

The Wall is not a person, true, but it is a character in its own right: The Wall is your site’s login.

The Wildlings live north of the wall. They are non-members; you don’t know much about them. You’ve heard tales, but you can’t know much for sure—like how loyal they might be—unless they’ve logged in.

Those who live south of the Wall are your members, your users who have logged in; they are a known quantity. Perhaps not a friendly group, but the devil you know…

The White Walkers are hackers. Much mythology surrounds these figures. A few people have come into contact with them, and it almost never ends well. They mean to harm you. The reason is not important, because they have the overwhelming power to carry through on their intent. You do all you can to learn their movements and techniques, and to spread the word if they are near. When winter comes, no sys admin or malware detector can help you; it will be far too late for any of that. Now, where did you leave that dragonglass dagger…?

The Night’s Watch / Crows are the ultimate brand loyalists. They’ll do anything to protect or promote your brand, including giving up family ties, a favorable living location, and marriage. They have sworn an oath to your brand, and they will (usually) do anything to keep that promise.

The Starks & Affiliates

Catelyn Stark has a user community of her own, and she fiercely protects their interests. If you treat them poorly by offering a bad user experience—or, gods forbid, installing malware on their machines—she will seek justice. What Catelyn doesn’t know until it’s too late is that her community has been the target of a joint NSA-CIA investigation for years, and she and most of her community will be taken out of commission.

Robb Stark holds his principles in high esteem. If he thinks he can further the greater good by infringing on your copyright, he will. He considers himself a freedom fighter engaged in social justice. You know he doesn’t have malicious intent toward your content, so you just keep an eye on him. But he does have enemies who would see his information-sharing curtailed, and he’s ill-informed about how powerful they are.

Sansa Stark likes pretty, glittery things. She has signed up for every flash sale there is, and she spends her days on Pinterest. She knows her spending has gotten her into trouble, but she’s unable to control it. It practically holds her hostage. If your site doesn’t offer shiny objects or a lazy river-style navigation for Sansa, she will leave immediately.

Arya Stark is a user that passes by the notice of most: she’s a secret shopper and a feature tester. Arya’s intentions are to improve the experience across the industry. She has very high standards. She’ll find all of the holes in your content and products, and she’ll exploit them for her own ends if she needs to. She may enlist others more powerful than herself to help her, because she’s resourceful. There aren’t many users like her, so you may not recognize what she’s doing, even if you’re looking right at her behavior in real time.

Bran Stark’s paralyzing disability means he has to experience your site with some assistance. If your code isn’t up to WCAG 3.0 standards, Bran can’t use your content. And if Bran can’t use your content, he’s sending a three-eyed crow your way. You don’t want that, do you?

Jon Snow is a user who values community validation above all. He seeks legitimacy and validation from multiple groups and gets it-—up to point. He’s never able to complete a goal and thus never quite fits in. He’s unpredictable. He might be an outlier in your analytics picture, because he switches between different user profiles.

Theon Greyjoy is also a user who values community validation above all, even above interpersonal relationships. The trouble is no one validates him. So he turns from a legitimate user into a troll seeking to harm those who snubbed him. Although Theon’s abilities and influence seems to be decreasing bit by bit, there’ll be another Theon down the road to take his place. It’s only a question of who and when.

Hodor is your site’s first-time or naive user. Even if your content is written for PhD-level users, you must account for someone encountering your site for the first time. Plain English, sequential “you are here” navigation, and simple design are key for users like Hodor. Oh, and he loves his name, so he’s a great user to target through personalization.

Brienne of Tarth is the primary demographic for your single (and very specific) topic site. Her only interest lies in knowing whether you’re for or against Catelyn Stark. Your site’s only content happens to be the former, which was great for you and Brienne… until the season finale. The trouble with Brienne’s user type is that your site’s content becomes moot when Catelyn Stark dies. Your site is now irrelevant to her—and to everyone else. There’s no need to visit the site ever again. Now what?

Still with us? There’re a lot of users to keep track of, we know! Maybe we need a clickable prototype of a family tree.

The Lannisters & Affiliates

Tywin Lannister wants to have the best of everything at any cost. He has a high tolerance for bad usability, high price, poorly written content, and a foul-tempered community, because he knows (or thinks) he’s buying the best product or experience that exists. He will commit nearly any act to get the best of the best, including alienating sellers, manufacturers, and his own employees. Tywin Lannister is a man who is not motivated by social validation, low price, or good service. He’s motivated by his own stubborn perception and opinions.

Jamie Lannister is a bored, jaded user killing time, plowing through and using up resources everywhere he goes. He’s been on the Internet for years, was one of its earliest users, in fact, and feels entitled to treat every site as if there should be a doormat welcoming him. Jamie is cynical and has made himself into a legend in his own mind. But if you recognize he has the same needs as most other users—great content, easy to find and use—he may repay you in surprisingly positive ways. So give him a hand.

What, too soon?

Tyrion Lannister is to House Lannister as Matt Cutts is to Google. Tyrion works for the behemoth corporation that owns nearly everything and everyone. But he claims to be, and acts like, a populist. He educates your users through nontraditional methods. He explains how to get the most out of the web; he’s keeping you on your toes. He may or may not be an actual user of your site.

Cersei Lannister has a bad product. She’ll send her trolls, spammers, and hackers to your site to defame your good product just to make hers look better, and she is backed by seemingly endless coffers. She knows her product kills people. Everyone knows it. But no one has been able to put it out of commission yet.

Joffrey Lannister Baratheon is a user interested in completing his eccentric collections. He’ll go to any end to outfit his personal archive of products and experiences. His tastes are beyond the pale, and there aren’t many sites that cater to his whims. The ones that can know he has so much money they can’t possibly turn away his business… even if they hate him, and secretly hope he never comes back.

Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, is a market analyst. He might be a corporate spy on the payroll of some specific entity, or he might be gaining intel for his own purposes. He’ll give you his email address to get all of your free white papers, but he’s got a plan to get the content behind your paywall, too. You just don’t know what it is yet.

Lord Varys is the user who wants to get all of the industry or product gossip he can. He seems like a taker to some, but to others he’s a valuable asset, because he trades his gossip for favors. And to some he’s a generous user, because he gives away his knowledge, seemingly for free. But there’s usually a price, even if you don’t yet understand what it is.

Margaery Tyrell seems to be the type of user who will use your site to shop for what she wants, to compare prices, to offer ratings, and become a part of the community, but who will never buy anything from you. Instead, she’ll go buy it somewhere else after she’s used your site for everything right up to the point of sale.

But wait, there’s more! Just when you think you understand all your users, more stakeholders show up with new information. Isn’t that always the way?

The Baratheons & Affiliates

Stannis Baratheon is a retail site’s dream user: He knows exactly what he’s looking for—he’ll immediately put things in his shopping cart—but he’s also extremely susceptible to upselling. He’ll click on any “Users like you also bought…” or “You should also see…” links presented to him. But Stannis likes to feel smart, so make him feel sophisticated and urbane with your writing tone and voice.

Melisandre, aka the Red Witch, is the user who comes to your site only to get your forecast or prediction. She uses your content to give life-altering advice to those around her. You don’t necessarily approve of her intentions, but you produce the highest quality content nonetheless. You can’t control what your users do with your content—as long as they’re respecting your copyright.

Just a few more users left. And you can’t write them off or combine them with other user types. We’re building the biggest requirements document ever created! (Cue Dr. Evil laughter! Wait, that’s another blog post…)

The Targaryens & Affiliates

Danaerys Targaryen, aka the Khaleesi, is Anonymous. You’ve heard she exists, and you’ve heard about the damage inflicted by the members of Anonymous, but it’s mostly legend. Right? Very few people have ever been directly affected by her, and they’re far away and not your concern. Of those who have been affected, some say she’s a liberator, a freedom fighter. Others say she’s a ruthless murdering outlaw. If it ever came down to it, you’d definitely want Anonymous on your side, not fighting against you.

The dragons are the hackers who make up Anonymous. They do the dirty deeds required to further Anonymous’s goals. The dragons are the ones who are sent to pillage, burn, and destroy your site if it’s been selected as a target. They will find your open server proxy or just take down your site by brute force attack. Your site may be defaced, or unable to handle normal levels of traffic, or it may be completely shut down and its contents distributed in open forums.

Jorah Mormont is the spokesperson for Anonymous. He may or may not be directly liable for crimes of hacking, but he is in direct contact with Anonymous. And he’s obviously sympathetic to their cause.

Winter is coming!

While we don’t know yet what will become of our users in the future, we do know that the game will play on (for another two seasons at least). The White Walkers and the Wildlings seem set to come south very soon. The Lannisters will stop at nothing to maintain power. But Stannis has the dark magic of Melisandre behind him. And Daenaerys, her dragons, and her armies are on the march!

The Wall will remain. New users will be added. Old users will leave—because, if you’ve read the books by George R R Martin, you know he kills off SO. MANY. CHARACTERS!

As the landscape of your users’ world changes, so too will the rules. Your site must adapt. It’s up to you to use the Wall to your benefit, and harness whatever technologies you have at your disposal to shed light on who lies north of it. Implicit personalization might be your best friend.

Next in this blog series about your site and your users: A visit to “The Office”

Whether your stapler has been suspended in jello, or you have to attend yet another PR brainstorming session, it’s still sunny in Scranton, PA. That’s what she said!

About the Authors

Catharine Robertson

I'm an Information Architect and Consultant with TBG, and I write and perform comedy in Baltimore.

Katie Templin

I'm the Director of Digital Strategy & User Experience at TBG, and I like to watch TV. Ask me about the user experience of Netflix.

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