Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Buzz on Plus: Dealing with the clutter

Erica Champion had an interesting idea that would be a valuable addition to activity streams if realized in a thoughtful and balanced way:

A priority inbox for Activity streams.

Well as simple as it sounds, as complicated it can get. Facebook is, for me, the worst example for a basically good idea, because I have neither control about how the filtering works, nor any idea how I can influence it.
I don't know and don't care about the technical details of Facebook's approach but there ARE serious issues I constantly encounter when Facebook switches back to the Top News thingy unasked. (Hidden status.updates of friends who got into trouble, got sick or married etc.. happend to me quite a lot of times, thanks filter-crap)

But before I cover this topic and 90 privacy-free-all-data-search-filter-bubble-people start hyperventilating, sending me the same useless link I saw already 89.029 times and scream in panic OMG it is all so evil and we all will die and such:  
I don't give a flying fuck about you concerns that your toaster might read your mind and that the personalized search is an evil invention to control our behavior by shaping the way we surf.
You can opt out EVERYWHERE from personalization, you just have to spend 30 seconds on evil Google to find a solution. And if you still are worried about your c-grade tinfoil hat not being safe enough: Start using other services and don't pester others with your panic if you prefer to keep yourself uneducated in the topics you just love to babble about.
Or go and live under a rock where no technology exists. Thanks.

So, first we will analyze the basic problems we encounter and the results we want to achieve.


  • shitloads of crap in the activity stream
  • even more shitloads of crap in the activity stream
  • even way more shitloads of crap in the activity stream

Results we'd like to have:

  • less shitloads of crap in the activity stream
  • information that is valuable
  • prioritization of information
Basic approaches BEFORE actually thinking of a priority filter:

  • stacking, merging or linking reshared content
  • implementing user-group filters (basically toggleable circles in the main stream)
  • content-type filters (turning on and off gif pest, photo-shares, video shares, check-in's, sparks, etc)
See the posts:

Please remember, we are trying to deal with the clutter in the main consumption stream.
multiple instanced of circle-members in different circles can get a real pest with growing circle sizes, so it would be better and easier if we'd make streams toggle-able in the main stream.
This is NOT a problem with circle sizes below 50 members, but imagine what happens if you have all your collegues, your internet buds etc in your circles... Clutter deluxe. And switching between the individual circles gets annoying over time.

Content type filters are also one way of dealing with the clutter... but it is... how should I say.. not individual.
We will have the problem that some people will post some very interesting content, directly generated/written on Google+, but pesters you with 70.000 shares of the most funny gifs he can find and reshare from I don't know where... And another one shares one of these artistic, wonderful gifs (yeah, these exist!) and just posts garbage all day long. If you filter one content type, you lose valuable content too. So how should we deal with that?

Instead of, what a lot of you might think now: "ZOMG this MOFO asshole wants to replace the content stream and censor everything, set him on fire!!!" I'd rather create a second option, directly under the "Stream" link on the left side called "Personalized Stream".

The personalized stream starts from zero without presets and is basically a clone of the normal stream. What you can do though is to create a certain set of rules that gets refined while the stream is used.

What tools would be needed for this approach?

Basically it would be great if we'd already have the clutter reducing options I mentioned earlier, so we can reduce the "background noise" like multiple reshares or TOTALLY unwanted content or uninteresting circles (like Brands... sometimes you just don't feel like digging through tons of company updates) first before we continue training the filters.

So, we start reading the stream and as we discover individual users that have.. quite a habit, we can select the dropdown on the right side of the post and select "hide this contentype from this user"
So there is an additional filter generated which kicks out all the crap we don't want to see.

We could even hide an entire person that... is just annoying when we want to see the most important stuff.

After the filtering, we come to the prioritization part.

Based on the following variables, we could prioritize bumping of posts:
  • +1's on a certain content-type (maybe even +1's on the content-type of a certain user)
  • commenting and interaction with certain users
  • mentioning users
  • muting posts (secondary parameter: count of comments until mute)
If you sum these variables up, you get a sense of weight/importance. The heavier the predicted weight of a post, the higher it is ranked, the easier it is bumped, the longer is the life-cycle in the personalized content stream.

For example: A heavy/important post can easily be bumped, even by a person's comment that is not in the circles of the user... a lightweight/unimportant post gets just bumped by a mention of the owner of the activity stream / viewer.

There are another thousand things to think of like: marking a certain user as "always important/heavy weight", but that'd lead too far.

I hope you enjoyed my ideas and thanks to Erica Champion for the spark of genius here, who came up with the Priority Inbox for activity streams for Google+ :)


Ps: if you have itchy fingers to type "Oh, LAME!! Facebook does that already and sh*t!", I politely ask to shut the fuck up and get lost! :D


Josh said...

For the multiple shares of the same content, I like the idea of a "first share" stack. For example, let's say I share an amazing post, and 10 other people share it. Since Florian tends to catch things first, he shares it, then a bunch of others do it too. For me, I would see it as:

"Florian Rohrweck shared a post by Joshua Talley...(etc., etc., post content...)

...along with 9 others" <-- expandable to see who else shared it, in case you're interested in a particular person's comments.

For any given user, the first person from their circles that shares it will be highlighted at the top.

Florian Rohrweck said...

Thx josh :D yeah that's also one of my favorites :D I hope google picks that up ^^

pjvex said...

does Facebook have "shares"?can't recall. But I think your fine-grained ideas (as same may have been inspired) are great. These are all ways to make G+ something better--the least of which is a Facebook clone. Although endless reshares are far more annoying than a simple bump. I am used to that with Buzz, and also discerning between the value of a comment would be difficult.

Google made a wise move in securing a large and talented focus group with which to test Google+. I hope they take all these ideas seriously.

gxg said...

Good points! We definitely need better filters and personal control over what we see in the stream. I did an article about it a couple of months ago, back when it was still Google Me:

P.S. for pjvex: Facebook does have sharing, but it's less widespread. It only works with links, as far as I remember.

TomN said...

I like the idea:

+1's on a certain content-type (maybe even +1's on the content-type of a certain user)

What might really work well is to have a sort of auto-ranking of my friends to influence priority bumps.

Every time I +1 a friend's post, they get a higher weight (obviously, a -1 would be a nice signal to have, too). The network effect happens when that user +1's any other post.

I have some friends who are a positive correlation to me. They like it, I'm probably going to like it.

Aaron & Nicole Longnion said...

Florian - good ideas here. Since I've already been working on the "too much crap in social networks" problem for a while with Refynr, I agree... to a point. Instead of trying to guess what people are +1'ing in a particular piece of content, we should just let the user explicitly define topics/keywords that they are most interested in, or want to mute/exclude.

When my comments start here,, the conversation of this thread gets interesting ;)

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