Timeline Algorithms

I’ve never stopped thinking like an RSS reader developer. A habit of nine years is difficult to shake.

For many years what I wanted to do was develop an algorithm for the reader that would pay attention to what you pay attention to, so that it could bring to the top things likely to be most important to you.

I never got that far, which I regretted for years.

But now I wonder if that would have been the right thing to do. These days I hear complaints that you don’t see everything on Facebook from the people you’ve chosen to follow. And Twitter seems to be moving toward an algorithm-based timeline too, which has people (including me) upset.

At the same time, people do like things like muting features and lists. So it’s not that they’re against filters and organization — it’s that they don’t want these imposed from the outside.

These days, were I writing an RSS reader (I’m not), I think I’d skip developing an algorithm based on the user’s attention — instead, I’d focus on making it really easy to filter out the things you don’t care about, and to highlight the things you’re more likely to want to see.

And not try to come up with some algorithm which would have the effect of bugging people and making them feel like they were missing things. Since they would be.

16 Sep 2014

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