User Experience Design Blog

Commentary on strategy and design of interactive products.

Engaging Users with News Feeds

October 20th, 2008 by Sergio Paluch

ReadWriteWeb wrote on Thursday that the news feed is the “dominant information paradigm of our time.” I don’t know that I would go quite that far, but it has spread like wildfire throughout the web despite causing a ruckus when its originator, Facebook, first launched it just two years ago. Today, most respectable social websites have some form of a news feed.

Why has something that was once so hated, suddenly become indispensable? Well, it was hated because it gave others visibility into one’s actions. Why did we eventually fall in love with it? We fell in love it because our voyeuristic tendencies eclipsed our privacy concerns, and those services offering news feeds improved the paradigm by giving users greater control over what is broadcast and to whom.

Vimeoland - Community News Feeds 3.0

It turns out that the news feed is an incredibly compelling feature that users closely follow and that effectively compels them to interact. News feeds not only appeal to our voyeuristic nature but also to our need for inclusion, which in turn compels us to mimick what the crowd does. That is why users have such a high penchant for meta data such as how many views a video has; they want to watch the videos that everyone else has seen.

There are basically two types of news feeds:

  • Personal - from online friends
  • General - from the entire community

Those from one’s friends are more interesting to users because viewers have a greater attachment to the person, and they elicit greater interaction because viewers trust and respect the people performing the action. Therefore, if my best buddy Peter becomes a fan of a band that I like, I am both more likely to notice that fact in the news feed, and I am also more likely to follow suit.

News feeds from the community may not be as engaging, but they are also effective in encouraging interaction. Some great examples of websites using this effectively include Vimeo’s Vimeoland, which also gets serious bonus points for highly innovative presentation. Other sites like Joost also use this to expose their content and foster exploration. In fact, Joost does it one better by showing both what the community members are doing as well as the user’s friends.

General News Feeds on Joost

Another thing that news feeds create are timeliness. Sites like Facebook have always had things happening on them. Users were always making friends, joining groups, and writing comments, but all this was hidden. With news feeds, these sites that once seemed somewhat static now seem to be bustling with activity, and timeliness are a critical ingredient to creating a destination. Users are much more likely to visit if they expect to find new and exiting things rather than the same old, same old.

It is indisputable that news feeds are here to stay, and any respectable social website can no longer afford to go without them while the competition implements them and engages its users. The only question that you should be asking is how else can we innovate and leverage news feeds?



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