December 28, 2007

Feature of the Year: the Newsfeed

Looking back at 2007, one web site feature stands out in my mind. The feature wasn't invented in 2007, but it became popular with the rise of Facebook. I'm talking about the Newsfeed. It will likely become as prevalent as the search box as a way to navigate social web sites.

The name Newsfeed is closely connected to Facebook, but the "latest first" (reverse-chronological) way of displaying news (in this blog post I'll use the word news to describe what have happened on the specific web site since the last visit and not general news) were also seen on Jaiku and Twitter. In addition the "latest first" have always been the default way to display posts on blogs and the way, at least mine, to display e-mail messages in the inbox.

But why does the Newsfeed ("latest first") work? What makes it tick?

A basic service a web site can provide a returning user is the sense of change. Even a small change will stop the visitor from feeling like a schmuck that wasted time visiting a web site where nothing had happened.

Thus, it is not enough with only a newsfeed. A web site must also make sure something new has happened. Why have a newsfeed if nothing has happened? This interplay could be one reason why Facebook launched Applications this year, half a year after the launch of the Newsfeed.

However, if there are a lot of changes between two visits, a pure "latest first" way to showcase activities is not as useful. The publisher can likely provide more value to the visitor by showcasing the most important news first or selecting which items to show in the newsfeed.

So, a good newsfeed shouldn't provide too many items at each login. My guess is no more than 10 items per login. This calls for the newsfeed to prioritize which items should be displayed to each user. Is a new photo more important than the usage of an application? Is a new friendship more important than a status update? Etcetera.

I summary, I think a good newsfeed should have the following characteristics (and it is no coincidence that Facebook's newsfeed nails all of them):

* Always display something new
* Not display too many new things
* Display things that are of interested to the individual user

Please add your thoughts in the comments or in your blog.

1 comment:

Rasmus said...

You also need a way to control to whose feeds you publish your activities. There were privacy concerns with this F8 announcement (too).