Live Notes from “Social Networks & The Need for Feeds” at GSP East

We’re here at the 4pm session and this panel is talking about the “paradigm of activity streams” within social networks for content discovery, privacy concerns, etc. The panel:

  • Kevin Chou, CEO of Watercooler
  • Dave Morin, Senior Platform Manager at Facebook
  • Adam Nash, Senior Director of Product at LinkedIn
  • David Recordon, Open Platforms Lead at Six Apart
  • Chris Messina, of Citizen Agency and Vidoop
  • Sean Ammirati, mSpoke and ReadWriteWeb moderating

Sean: How relevant are social network feeds to what you do?

Kevin: We think about feeds as a way to re-engage users. When a user comes back to the app, we want the user to spend hours in our apps with other fans and other content. We want our users to find out about everything through feeds.

Chris: As we’ve made publishing tools more democratic, the number of people publishing has gone up considerably, but all of this information has made me no smarter. The newsreader view of titles only is about as much as I can consume of any activity stream.

David R: We’re looking at it from the aggregation side of things. People are blogging content all around the web, and feeds help do a better job of representing what someone is doing around the web.

Adam: The most important thing for professionals is that they don’t have enough time, and they need focus. With updates, we try to focus on the most relevant professional information. Discovering that 3 other people at your company have read an article today make it much more professionally relevant that you also read it.

David R: FriendFeed added something interesting last week, which was filtering your feed by what’s most interesting today, in the last week, in the last month.

Dave M: We look at feeds in 2 different ways. One, we spend a lot of time thinking about how best to let the user represent themselves. We help users and developers represent that action or their identity in their Mini Feed. Second, we have the News Feed on the front page that takes the billions of actions that happen every day and display the information we think is the most relevant to you – based on who you interact with, what kind of content you’re interested in, and other things. We’re experimenting with different algorithmic approaches and other more direct user feedback, and it’s gotten a lot better over time.

David R: Don’t you guys still weight news feeds towards what’s best for you?

Dave M: I don’t think there are vested interests, we really really try to make sure that the content that shows up is relevant to the user. We try to do a good job of balancing third party application feed stories and stories from our own applications.

Sean: How important are feeds to you for getting new application users, Kevin?

Kevin: We really think about news feeds more for engaging our users than for acquisition. Earlier in the Facebook the feeds were more important for acquisition, but now it’s more focused on engagement.

Sean: How important is filtering it?

Adam: It’s really hard to measure which news feeds people like. Some people really like just seeing those 140 characters fly by.

Chris: Are people getting more productive, or just getting bombarded with most information?

Adam: In the beginning, it feels good, it’s all upward curve. You can only have coffee and catch up with so many people every 6 months. But it can quickly get too much.

David R: Looking today at the number of different companies, large and small, this could be the next big algorithm after search.

Dave M: The problem that we’re all trying to solve is that as more people come online, we can feel empathy with more people at once, etc, but how can we show people messages that bring them delight and at the same time people they haven’t heard from in 6 months.

Adam: It’s really hard to weight these things. Someone that looks close to you on the graph and may be producing a ton of stories may be less important to you than someone you care deeply about but haven’t seen since college.

Sean: What are the metrics you guys are trying to optimize for?

Dave M: I think engagement is the best way to measure it globally. But sometimes, even engagement doesn’t do a good job – maybe you interact with your girlfriend or wife a lot offline but not online. How do you get that granularity, I don’t know.

Adam: Engagement is the gold standard for the consumer internet in general. I think we’re still in the very early days. We’ll do some things to give users more control, some might be black box algorithms. It’s really really hard at the event level. It’s much easier to calculate relevance for a website than relevance of a news article – news is much more temporal where websites are around for a long time.

David R: What do you do when you have multiple streams? We have technology for sharing, but lots of problems like duplicates, or even being able to share the feeds when some of them are private.

Kevin: We do spend some time thinking about different kinds of feeds – connecting users to each other versus connecting users to content. When somebody lays the smack down on their friend, we try and figure out if they’re more interested in seeing the content of that action or in connecting to the person directly.

Adam: I like keeping my personal, professional, and family feeds separate. I think millions of people are experimenting with what works for them, with the “social contracts” with the different services that are very different based on culture.

Kevin: I think what you’ll see that each business is different, Facebook and LinkedIn have different objectives to make the news feed as powerful as possible for their users.

Sean: What about exporting of feeds?

Dave M: We recently announced Facebook Connect, which incorporates the notion of dynamic privacy. The main concern with allowing users to export their News Feeds is that privacy doesn’t go with it. We have a little ways to go before dynamic privacy works. We want the same kind of privacy settings that exist within Facebook to propagate throughout the web.