Can your brain really handle all that activity stream junk?


Seems like you can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting someone that’s got an activity stream built into their app, or their app is a an aggregator of activity streams. Not surprising. Twitter is enormously popular. People looove to read those tweets. This is affecting how other consumer products look at their activity UIs.

But is there, perhaps, going to be a backlash to the total information awareness wrought by having to read all these streams? Some thoughts:

Facebook rolled out its new design recently, basically making the homepage much more Twitter-like. Result: Everyone seems to hate it. I know that I personally am much more aggressively “hide”ing people in Facebook that I don’t care about (and that is, frankly, most of my connections) because I just can’t deal with all the overload.

Facebook's Twitter-like new look. I need to hide annoying people more aggressively.

Facebook's Twitter-like new look. I need to hide annoying people more aggressively.

Friendfeed, which is kind of an uber-aggregator of activity feeds from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. etc., has rolled out an interesting new UI at This thing will actually show LIVE updates of your friends’ activity feeds, and, if you’ve got enough friends, will get going so fast you can’t keep up with it. They had to add a “pause” button!

FriendFeed's new Twitter-like interface. Note the "pause" button, upper-right.

FriendFeed's new Twitter-like interface. Note the "pause" button, upper-right.

Finally, consider how recently even CNN cleaned up the “UI” of their TV broadcast, removing all that constant ticker junk. They think that people are getting tired of it.

New, ticker-less CNN graphics.

New, ticker-less CNN graphics.

Jeremiah Owyang has a quick, nice piece on how UI needs to do a better job of helping users sort the activity stream in a way that makes sense to them. Sure, definitely, but harder to do than to say. Check Jeremiah’s thoughts here.

So hey, here’s a contrarian thought: Are activity streams just another goddamn email inbox? And when they get choked with too much data, will we just stagger like zombies to some new UI/service that seems like The Solution but is actually desirable merely because it’s not clogged with crap yet?

5 Responses to “Can your brain really handle all that activity stream junk?”

  1. 1 John


    A couple of quick thoughts: The reason so much of the new Facebook UI gets overwhelming is because we all have accepted connection requests from people who really aren’t friends. I am sure there is some deep psychology at play in this phenomenon but I’ll leave that speculation to those more qualified than me.

    If we all simply stopped sending and accepting friend requests (or following on twitter, etc) to people we don’t care about getting updates from this problem would become less significant. That however seems unlikely.

    This overload could be whittled down by the ability to have more nuanced definitions of connections (Close friend, acquaintance, biz assoc, etc) and each of those could translate to different types of updates sent to your feed. In the real world we don’t simply have one type of connection that fits all relationships.

    Damn that was a long ass comment. I should learn to be more succinct.

  2. 2 Craig

    Funny, I just posted a status to facebook that says “I’m getting tired of facebook, you too?” It’s not that there’s overload and it’s not because I have friended too many people. No, the real problem is that facebook is littered with junk, most of it not really about my friends or the people I follow, but rather about same bullshit quiz someone just took.

    As it turns out, I actually really like twitter because it cuts right to the heart of what I want: What are the people I’m interested in doing right now? What are they thinking? Where are they? What funny observations do they have? What are they reading? They don’t even have to be friends and, in fact, most of the people I follow are not friends. They are, however, interesting. The same cannot be said for all the app spam I get from facebook.

    “Steve just took the quiz ‘What kind of flower are you?’ and the answer is ‘Who gives a shit?'”

  3. 3 Steve Kuhn

    Good comments guys.

    John: The overload of connections on Facebook certainly leads to friendfeed overload. Recently Josh Porter discussed how “asynchronicity” (that is, when I follow you, you don’t necessarily need to follow me) of connections on Twitter meant the Twitter stream was more useful. Of course, social relationships are much more than synchronous, or asynchronous, but nuanced by factors such as repetition of contact, subject matter of contact, etc. etc. Is Facebook working on that? They oughta be.

    Also, John: “More nuanced list of connections,” yes, definitely. This is something we’ve talked about at SelectMinds for awhile. Sort of a “friends segmentation” but also “content targeting” mechanism so the right people see the right stuff. Persona management, basically. I’ll tackle this in a future post.

    Craig: Agreed, the appspam on Facebook is pretty nuts. However, I am checking on Facebook still because not all of the people I care about on Facebook have yet migrated to Twitter. When they do, will I abandon Facebook? Maybe.

    And, by the way, here’s the kind of flower I am.

  4. 4 Robert Brazile

    Sounds more like asymmetry than asynchronicity to me because it’s more about balance than time.

    I find facebook decreasingly interesting because it’s unpredictable: while it may be deterministic in how it chooses what to show and when, it *seems* to me that it rather arbitrarily drops some events that I care about and includes others that I don’t. As a result, I find it difficult to take in “a bunch of important stuff about my friends” at a glance. (Of course some of that is people still trying to figure out what the whole facebook status thing is really supposed to be: ersatz Twitter or something else?)

    Presumably they could give me the ability to fine-tune this (and perhaps already have) but I don’t actually want to work that hard; I just want them to get something closer to “right” to start with.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on beauty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: