Twitter, Instagram & the Challenges of Discovery Outside the Feed

My tweet “QQ: do you ever click the ‘popular’ tab on Instagram or ‘discover’ on Twitter? Why or why not?” got a bunch of responses, so at a few people’s request, here are the summarized tweets on Storify, grouped by “Yes on Instagram,” “Yes on Twitter” and “Hells No.”  Given my own experiences, the fact most people picked “Hells No” didn’t surprise me. There are much longer posts to be written about the challenges of designing de-personalized discovery within a curated feed based experience but here are a few thoughts:

  • Generally I’d say there are three ways to think about content which interests you, and it’s VERY VERY HARD to do all three of these in the same product
    • What you like (high relevance, high personalization; done either via algorithmic recommendations or your own curation)
    • What your friends like (mixed relevance from an interest graph perspective but important because the content tells you about your friends and serves as social glue for those relationships)
    • What the world likes (the watercooler, mixed relevance but important again because overall enjoyment of content isn’t just about the content itself, but the community which forms around it. You don’t want to be left out)
  • Feeds are especially challenging UX for this because they are inherently linear while browsing is inherently multidimensional – you want to be able to zoom in/out on topics, and feeds don’t really support that elegantly.
  • In Twitter, Instagram we’ve already created a feed based product which smashes together the three categories above (i’d guess that many people follow friends, sources of info they like, and one or two breaking news style services whether it be CNN, ESPN, pop culture, etc). So anything you leave out is likely to be less relevant to you – ie if something is on Discover but not in your feed, it’s a failure of your curation, not the system helping you explore new areas of interest previously unknown to you.
  • Lots of services try to put in popular, what’s hot, etc and I’m guessing it’s mostly for the following purposes:
    • To get you to discovery new content & sources (see comment above about why this are inherently less relevant)
    • To give people with thin low volume feeds something to do so that there’s always new content a click away – solving the “I’m Bored” problem
    • My argument would be that more UIs should be explored which allow you to easily pivot into these categories from your main feed as opposed to separate tab. For example, from a tweet in my feed, easily swipe to “similar tweets” or “more tweets about this topic.” And there can be an affordance that if your main feed is empty, fills it in with best guess popular stuff. Note I don’t like interweaving popular content with your own curated results, it’s jarring.
  • Finally, these sorts of browse experience are major spam vectors. Twitter says they’re pushing something out next week to solve this but what I’d really love in the Twitter mobile app is the chance to replace Discover with Flipboard or ReadItLater, either of which would be excellent products to mimic/acquire. 
Ok, bunch of random thoughts based on what I read from results. Were you surprised by people’s responses? Do they match your own behaviors?

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