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Thursday
Jun152017

Three Concentric Circles (Part 2)

Back in May I posted a teaser regarding this idea I've had for a universal social media management solution. I came up with this idea while struggling with the fact that my Twitter feed is fundamentally unmanageable, and that this has a lot to do with the tension between our capacity to process information, and the steady push of social media to add more and more content to our streams. The concept is simple, although executing it may not be. As the title of this post (and the previous one) indicate, it is a concept that relies on three concentric circles.

From my perspective, the most important piece of the puzzle involves the fundamental question of what we're looking for when we check our streams on social media platforms. There are of course a variety of needs and desires that social media fulfills for us, and only one of those is a channel for information, but that particular need is important. Historically, it was especially important on Twitter. Arguably, that function has been reduced for many people, but I would put forth the counterpoint that it is still a key function for many of these platforms, and that they tend to do it pretty badly. There are a few reasons for this: 

  1. Whether algorithmically sorted, or historically streamed, social media services generally don't offer you a way to separate content you've already engaged with from content that is novel.
  2. Apart from power user functions like lists, the user has very little control over how to prioritize information from different sources. Google tried this on G+ with circles, but there were other problems that attended that platform, and by default the user was still presented with a flood of all possible content.
  3. The longer a user engages with a platform, the more information there is in a stream and the more unmanageable that volume of information becomes without searching out power user functions which most users are unlikely to do, and which don't exist on all platforms.
  4. Not all users create the same volume of information, and yet content from all users is generally presented in the same manner regardless of the volume they generate. 

My solution to this is fairly simple, and could likely be applied to any social media platform. It has two parts. The first is the very simple step of grouping users you follow into the three concentric circles I've mentioned. It's entirely up to the user to determine which other users are grouped into the inner two circles, but the key is that users in the innermost circle are the ones whose content you absolutely want to make sure you don't miss without having to go check out their individual stream.

For most users, the inner circle likely contains no more than a dozen other users, although this will depend on the amount of content those users generate. There may well be 12 users I follow who tweet dozens of times every day, but for me personally, I'm not concerned about catching every tweet from all 12 of those users. However, there might be 2 of them that I rely on as news sources (e.g. @GreatDismal), and as such I might want to ensure that all of the dozens of tweets from those users are part of that inner circle. By contrast, I may follow 40+ users who only tweet a few times a month, and 14 of them may be close friends of mine. In general, I'm likely to lose their tweets in the deluge, and those are tweets I really want to see. As such, I might choose to add those 14 to that inner circle to make sure that when I check there, I'm guaranteed to see their content.

You probably start to get the idea here. Ultimately, you need to give the power to the user to decide who they put in what circle, and the key is that unlike on G+, this isn't about sharing circles or grouping by categories. It's simply a way to do a general ranking of your information flow so that you can make sure you always see the content that's most important to you without having to use some sort of advanced approach to information processing. If (based on my guess) the average user has about a dozen moderate volume users in their inner circle, I'll go out on a limb and say that next circle will probably be somewhere around 50-60 users. Everyone else goes into the outermost circle.

The other key function is the ability to view either a complete timeline, or to only view content you haven't seen yet. I speculate that this is a function that a lot of users would enjoy. For me personally, it would be a game changer. I want to be able to check my inner circle for new content first when I open up Twitter or Instagram. As you may know, I haven't been on Facebook for a long long time. I'm not suggesting that a new comment in a thread shouldn't pull back the thread or the item here. Context matters. Still, for me (and I suspect many other users), being able to just do a quick scan of content I haven't interacted with before would be invaluable. Twitter is of course particularly miserable at this since it doesn't even track across where you left off across platforms, but it's a feature that I think would be beneficial for basically all social media consumption. 

So that's it. Three concentric circles, and the ability (common in every RSS reader I've ever used) to filter by items you've already viewed, not necessarily as a default view. I believe that this would make the information management, consumption, and interaction in content streams significantly better for the vast majority of users on any social media platform.

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