Wowd, previously a Facebook news feed desktop client, today launches a web version of its free service. The company aims to reduce information overload due to filter failure by automatically generating smart feeds of the updates of clusters of a user’s friends.
However, while custom feeds, smart feeds, and news feed search capabilities offer some additional value, most users will likely still prefer using Facebook.com.
Many startups have attempted to provide a better way of browsing Facebook this year. The RockMelt social internet browser found some early praise, but anecdotal evidence suggests the novelty has worn off and users are returning to their standard web browsers. Flipboard offers an elegant reading experience but is only available for iPad, and Paper.li makes Facebook content look like Twitter posts but doesn’t update in real time. PostPost, a custom socially curated newspaper which launched last week, is an efficient way to consume links and videos posted by friends. It filters out personal content including status updates, though, showing it’s not trying to replace Facebook canvas.
Wowd added Facebook news feed browsing to its desktop software in August. The integration focused on feed searches which could be turned into custom streams. It also helped conceal application stories — something Facebook now handles for non-gamers. While compelling for some, requiring users to download and install software created a lot of friction, leading to only 500,000 total users and 70,000 daily active users. The new web version aims to eliminate this friction and provide a more powerful, though less interconnected, way to consume posts by friends.
When users visit the Wowd site and permit access to their accounts, they’re brought to a home page which looks similar to their Facebook news feed. However, Facebook only allows API access to the posts of a user’s friends, not the news feed algorithm EdgeRank which determines their prominence in the feeds. Wowd has developed its own Top Now algorithm, which is more similar to Google’s PageRank in that it takes into account multiple degrees of connectivity. This means a post by a friend who you rarely interact with, but with whom your closest friends heavily interact, will have greater prominence in Wowd’s Top Now than in the Facebook news feed.
Top Now is not as good at determining the most compelling posts, though. It regularly displays random wall posts or posts with few Likes or comments, while Facebook pulls up links with healthy discussions. Also, since Wowd does not offer other core Facebook apps which are often linked to in feed posts, users will have follow links to Facebook.com to see an uploaded photo or RSVP to Events.
The web version of Wowd retains the time period feeds (Top in 7 days…), feed search, custom feeds, and tag clouds, but strips out some features including browsing history which require the desktop software. New are Smart Feeds — auto-generated feeds of posts by different clusters in your network. For instance, Wowd created Smart Feeds for my San Francisco friends and my people from freshman dorm. The feature aims to one-up the manually started, often forgotten friend lists feature on Facebook.
Wowd CEO Mark Drummond says that due to information overload Facebook users are “past the point where the news feed feels empowering, and they start to feel squashed by updates”. Wowd therefore focuses on custom feeds and search. In the future, the service aims to also help filter Twitter and LinkedIn feeds, and release a mobile app for “info snacking”.
Though there are specific use cases for Wowd, personal Facebook updates weren’t meant to be consumed in a feature vacuum. When users click through to Facebook to view a photo or other core app, they’re not likely to return.