Telling you how we see the world.
ViewPoint was built because we needed a more efficient and quicker way to read updates from various services like Twitter, FriendFeed, etc. We focussed on three major attributes: an interface that helps you scan through a large number of updates quickly; the ability to control the echo chamber by pulling in your information into one place and consolidating it; and help you in grouping a large number of information sources (or friends) and managing those groups over time.
From the instant Google Reader was launched in 2005, I did all my RSS reading through it. I loved its scrolling reading pane, especially because I had a lot of updates to skim through. With the help of keyboard shortcuts to move through the list, I used to keep my eyes fixated on one spot on the screen. Why all the trouble, you ask? Just by doing so, I could quickly scan through updates but also stop to read if I needed to. Although the interface was pleasing, I always felt it could be improved upon and made much much more powerful.
On that note, ViewPoint features an improved version of the Google Reader interface and is applied specifically to smaller updates. By using your mouse wheel or arrow keys you can scroll through updates easily. The current update is expanded while it remains stuck to the same spot on the screen. And since tweets have an almost fixed size; updates do not shift, making the sticky scroll interface almost perfect.
An aggregator, in essence, consolidates multiple information sources into one. This becomes all the more necessary because of the echo chamber effect of the tech community. A piece of information can get linked, retweeted and passed on at such fascinating pace that within a matter of minutes the entire community would have dissected it and amplified it a hundred times over.
Standard social media clients can make this experience overwhelming, not to mention discomforting.The problem gets worse when you add a service like FriendFeed into the mix. FriendFeed has grown from a simple aggregator to a social network. What this means is that on FriendFeed I get an amplified version of a person’s stream. Using FriendFeed on a day to day basis is a time consuming process and in spite of their lists feature, I can’t help but feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
Here’s how ViewPoint helps you convert the seemingly complex experience into a simple enjoyable one: with ViewPoint, we group updates from different sources, different tools and even retweets together. At-replies from Twitter get consolidated as comments. These comments are then collapsed by default so that they don’t interfere with the reading. We pull in your FriendFeed lists and lay them out on a page as widgets. Each of these widgets feature the aforementioned sticky scroll interface. In short, ViewPoint lets you scan through all those FriendFeed updates in a flash making it far more manageable.
Several social media clients and social networks support the concept of list or groups, where you can group a bunch of your friends together and see their updates in one place. By doing so you are creating a simple system of priority; meaning you are more likely to read the updates from that group as opposed to the rest.
Another way to look at groups is the concept of “human filters” or as we jokingly refer to as the soylent filters. The idea is that we trust a certain group of people and are essentially telling ourselves that we are going to read what they find interesting. This idea has grown in popularity over the last couple of years not just because of its merit but also because it is incredibly effective when you are being overloaded with information. On the flip side automated filters are inaccurate and are hence only useful in creating search queries or creating very specific filters. But we do trust what our friends find interesting. This idea is at the core of Twitter’s success; we are constantly looking for people that post updates that we might find interesting. Incidentally this is also the reason for the dropping popularity of RSS feeds; instead of my RSS reader telling me what to read for the day I’m going to let my friends on Twitter decide for me.
We took this idea and scrutinized it. The biggest problem we found was managing these groups. The groups loose their effectiveness the moment they have too many friends in it and get overloaded. This happens in one of two ways; the groups either grow when we add more people or the people in the group have changed their posting habits and are now far noisier than before. At this point we would need to clean up the group and get it back under control. But this is not an easy task when you have lots of people in a group. At this point people tend to start over or just remove people according to personal preference. We make this process simpler and far more accurate by letting you know which of the user matter more to you with our Rank feature. We also tell you who the noisiest people in the group are.
But we don’t just stop there, we also let you know the status of a group and find the groups that are overloaded. This data is represented in the form of an intuitive indicator. As you add or remove people from the group we give you immediate feedback letting you know the effect the change will make on the status of the group. These features when used together allow the user to create a group and never have to worry about it getting out of hand. So the groups within ViewPoint adapt to your usage and we have found them to be far more effective than the static groups you would find else where.
We have been using ViewPoint as our primary way to consume information for some time now and its nearly impossible for us to find another service that does it all. It isn’t perfect but we are constantly improving our service and looking for new ideas that would make ViewPoint better.
At this point we feel we are ready to share with the early adopters in the community so we can incorporate the feedback we get into the service. So if you are interested then head over here and sign up with your email and we will send you an invite. If you have any thoughts, concerns or ideas about this post or anything related to ViewPoint feel free to drop me a line or contact me via Twitter.
Thanks to @schmetterlingen for reading over this post.