Social Reading User Interface for Discovery

I read quite a bit of material online. I save “bookmarks” of all of it on my personal website, sometimes with some additional notes and sometimes even with more explicit annotations. One of the things I feel like I’m missing from my browser, browser extensions, and/or social feed reader is a social layer overlay that could indicate that people in my social network(s) have read or interacted directly with that page (presuming they make that data openly available.)

One of the things I’d love to see pop up out of the discovery explorations of the IndieWeb or some of the social readers in the space is the ability to uncover some of this social reading information. Toward this end I thought I’d collect some user interface examples of things that border on this sort of data to make the brainstorming and building of such functionality easier in the near future.

If I’m missing useful examples or you’d like to add additional thoughts, please feel free to comment below.

Examples of social reading user interface for discovery

Google

I don’t often search for reading material directly, but Google has a related bit of UI indicating that I’ve visited a website before. I sort of wish it had the ability to surface the fact that I’ve previously read or bookmarked an article or provided data about people in my social network who’ve done similarly within the browser interface for a particular article (without the search.) If a browser could use data from my personal website in the background to indicate that I’ve interacted with it before (and provide those links, notes, etc.), that would be awesome!

Screen capture for Google search of Kevin Marks with a highlight indicating that I've visited this page in the recent past
Screen capture for Google search of Kevin Marks with a highlight indicating that I’ve visited his page several times in the past. Given the March 2017 date, it’s obvious that the screen shot is from a browser and account I don’t use often.

I’ll note here that because of the way I bookmark or post reads on my own website, my site often ranks reasonably well for those things.

On a search for an article by Aaron Parecki, my own post indicating that I’ve read it in the past ranks second right under the original.

In some cases, others who are posting about those things (reading, commenting, bookmarking, liking, etc.) in my social network also show up in these sorts of searches. How cool would it be to have a social reader that could display this sort of social data based on people it knows I’m following

A search for a great article by Matthias Ott shows that both I and several of my friends (indicated by red arrows superimposed on the search query) have read, bookmarked, or commented on it too.

Hypothes.is

Hypothes.is is a great open source highlighting, annotation, and bookmarking tool with a browser extension that shows an indicator of how many annotations  appear on the page. In my experience, higher numbers often indicate some interesting and engaging material. I do wish that it had a follower/following model that could indicate my social sphere has annotated a page. I also wouldn’t mind if their extension “bug” in the browser bar had another indicator in the other corner to indicate that I had previously annotated a page!

Screen capture of Vannevar Bush’s article As We May Think in The Atlantic with a Hypothes.is browser extension bug indicating that there are 329 annotations on the page.

Reading.am

It doesn’t do it until after-the-fact, but Reading.am has a pop up overlay through its browser extension. It adds me to the list of people who’ve read an article, but it also indicates others in the network and those I’m following who have also read it (sometimes along with annotations about their thoughts).

What I wouldn’t give to see that pop up in the corner before I’ve read it!

Reading.am’s social layer creates a yellow colored pop up list in the upper right of the browser indicating who else has read the article as well as showing some of their notes on it. Unfortunately it doesn’t pop up until after you’ve marked the item as read.

Nuzzel

Nuzzel is one of my favorite tools. I input my Twitter account as well as some custom lists and it surfaces articles that people in my Twitter network have been tweeting about. As a result, it’s one of the best discovery tools out there for solid longer form content. Rarely do I read content coming out of Nuzzel and feel robbed. Because of how it works, it’s automatically showing those people in my network and some of what they’ve thought about it. I love this contextualization.

Nuzzel’s interface shows the title and an excerpt of an article and also includes the avatars, names, network, and commentary of one’s friends that interacted with the piece. In this example it’s relatively obvious that one reader influenced several others who retweeted it because of her.

Goodreads

Naturally sites for much longer form content will use social network data about interest, reviews, and interaction to a much greater extent since there is a larger investment of time involved. Thus social signaling can be more valuable in this context. A great example here is of Goodreads which shows me those in my network who are interested in reading a particular book or who have written reviews or given ratings.

A slightly excerpted/modified screen capture of the Goodreads page for Melanie Mitchell’s book Complexity that indicates several in my social network are also interested in reading it.

Are there other examples I’m missing? Are you aware of similar discovery related tools for reading that leverage social network data?

👓 Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel | Scroll Blog

Read Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel (Scroll Blog)

A note from Tony Haile, CEO of Scroll

TL;DR

  • Scroll is acquiring Nuzzel
  • The core service isn’t going to change beyond removing the ads
  • We’re spinning out the media intelligence business

Nuzzel is one of my favorite things, so I’m glad to hear that it will continue on… I haven’t heard much about Scroll, which appears to be a journalism startup, but hopefully they’ve got enough legs to make it for the long haul.

We need more competition in the space of “discovery” on the web and particularly in the area of allowing users to control the levers that go into some of that discovery. The blackbox algorithms of the social media giants certainly can’t be trusted because of their financial motivations. In some sense, I view Nuzzel as a real-time directory, but one whose cache is flushed at regular intervals instead of saving all the data for a later date and time or other additional searching. I wonder what a engine like Nuzzel would look like if it kept all the data and allowed itself to be searchable in a long-tail way?

🎧 Radio Atlantic: How to Fix Social Media | The Atlantic

Listened to Radio Atlantic: How to Fix Social Media by Matt Thompson, Alexis Madrigal from The Atlantic

Social-media platforms once promised to connect the world. Today’s digital communities, though, often feel like forces for disunity. Anger and discord in 2018 seemed only amplified by the social-media institutions that now dictate our conversations. Executive Editor Matt Thompson sits down with the staff writer Alexis Madrigal to find out how we got to this state, and whether we can do anything to change it.

Discussion topics include: why our online problems are really offline ones, what these platforms have lost in pursuit of scale, and how Matt’s and Alexis’s experiments with solutions have fared.

Last year, Alexis removed retweets from his Twitter account (and was pessimistic about new changes bringing back the old Twitter). Matt just began an experiment turning his Twitter account into a place for conversation rather than performance by reclaiming “the ratio.” The effort reminds Alexis of another noble attempt at making your own rules online. Has it Made the Internet Great Again? Listen to find out.

Voices

Definitely a fascinating episode; potentially worth a second listen.

Of primary interest here, Matt Thompson discusses his concept of “Breaking the Ratio” (🎧 00:23:16-00:27:28a take on the idea of being ratioed on Twitter.

His concept immediately brings to mind a few broad ideas:

Micro.blog is, to some extent, a Twitter clone–loathe as I am to use the phrase as it is so much more than that–which acts in almost exactly the way that Matt and likely Alexis wish Twitter would. Manton Reece specifically designed Micro.blog to not have the idea of retweets or likes, which forces people to have more direct conversations and discussions. Instead of liking or retweeting a post, one must reply directly. Even if one just sends a heart or thumbs up emoji, it has to be an explicit reply. Generally replies are not so sparse however, and the interactions are much more like Matt describes in his personal community.

(I’ll be clear that micro.blog does have a “favorite” functionality, but it is private to the user and doesn’t send any notifications to the post on which it is given. As a result, the favorite functionality on micro.blog is really more semantically akin to a private bookmark, it just has a different name.)

The second thing, albeit tangential to the idea of breaking the ratio, is Ben Werdmüller‘s idea of people taking back agency and using their own voices to communicate.

While the retweet is a quick and useful shorthand, it decimates the personal voices and agency of the people who use it. He’s suggested that they might be better off restating the retweet in their own voice before sending it on, if they’re going to pass the information along. I wonder if he’s ultimately ended up somewhere interesting with his original thesis and research I know he has been doing.[1][2]

If one thinks about it for a moment the old blogosphere was completely about breaking the ratio as most writers wanted to communicate back and forth with others in a more direct and real manner. The fact that the blogosphere didn’t have likes, favorites, or retweets was a feature not an issue. The closest one usually got to a retweet was a blockquote of text which was usually highlighted, featured, and then either argued with or expounded upon.

I’ll note that I most typically use Twitter in a read-only mode almost exactly like Alexis indicates (🎧 00:29:56) that he uses it: plugged into Nuzzel to surface some of the best articles and ideas along with the ability to see the public commentary from the Tweets of the people I’m following and care about. To me this method filters out a lot of the crap and noise and tends to surface a lot more interesting content for me. I’ve created several dozen Twitter lists of various people and plugged them into Nuzzel, so invariably almost everything I come across while using it is useful and interesting to me.

Finally, I’d invite both Matt and Alexis, as fans of the old-school blogosphere, to take a look at what is happening within the IndieWeb community and the newer functionalities that have been built into it to extend what the old blogosphere is now capable of doing. My experience in having gone into it “whole hog” over the past several years has given me a lot of the experiences that Matt describes and which Alexis wishes he had (without all the additional work). I’m happy to chat with either of them or others who are looking for alternate solutions for community and conversation without a lot of the problems that come along as part and parcel with social media services.