Tweetdeck issued a software update this morning and the most striking change is in its handling of user groups. It's beautiful. The new Tweetdeck is faster, more flexible and easier to navigate.As more and more of our friends and favorite organizations start publishing updates online, being able to organize them well is becoming even more important. Niche-popular desktop social media stream-reader
Groups, we have argued, are the secret weapon of the social Web. Here are five ways that the new Tweetdeck gets groups right, and that Facebook, the world's dominant social-media-stream reader by a long-shot, could learn from what Tweetdeck is doing. That would drastically improve Facebook's own user experience.
Internet startup investor John Borthwick of Betaworks has told us that he invested in Tweetdeck specifically because its column metaphor represented a drastic break from the page-based metaphor of the rest of the Web and the Instant Messaging metaphor of most other Twitter clients. That's how Tweetdeck works: It lets you put your friends and contacts on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn into grouped columns across your screen. It's a powerful system and the clear leader in the ecosystem of interfaces built around Twitter. Competitor Seesmic has a similar offering and is also based on columns for groups.
These applications may be more overwhelming than many mainstream users are looking for, but the principles could be adapted to Facebook's own interface in some very interesting ways.
The Problem With Facebook's Group Support
Groups of users, which Facebook calls Lists, are extremely helpful in prioritizing messages by their source. They enable users to subscribe to more sources of information in total without fear they will miss high-priority content. Groups help contextualize messages in a stream, and with good search support they can help you target queries and unearth the information you're looking for within a limited space of trusted, topical sources of information. Last month, Facebook suggested its users subscribe to news organizations on the social network and put those updates in a special list called News, for example.
Unfortunately, Facebook has never treated Groups with the respect that they deserve. The newest redesign pushes friends Lists a click removed from the front page of the site, even. (It took me three clicks from the home page to see the view pictured on the right, for example.) The company is instead focused on serving up content from favored sources using the new News Feed (vs. Live Feed) algorithm. This algorithm says that the more you've interacted with a source of information in the past, the more likely you are to want to read that person's updates in the future. News Feed is a self-reenforcing paradigm that simplifies and narrows a user's universe by taking editorial control out of their hands and putting it in the hands of a black-box formula.
How could Facebook better handle groups? Let's take a look at how Tweetdeck does it.
Tweetdeck's Superior Handling of Groups
- Buttons to navigate directly
The new Tweetdeck update today added a series of buttons at the bottom of the application for your group columns. Hover over them and you'll see the column name. Click on that button and you'll be brought immediately to that column, a much nicer experience than the awkward old scrolling. The hover display does show some information that's probably not useful to anyone (API calls remaining) but putting rapid group navigation in a good place in the app makes a big difference. It would also be nice if those buttons were configurable in some way - like the red one or #3 is for my @ replies column. But Tweetdeck now makes it much, much easier to navigate between groups than Facebook does. Facebook almost seems to be discouraging use of groups by burying them several clicks below top level options.
- Different Notification Priorities
Tweetdeck makes it easy to set up different levels of notification for different groups. For example, my "high-priority" Twitter group sends full messages as a pop-up in the corner of my screen when it updates, but my column for people I actually know in real life on Facebook (like my family members) throws a pop-up and an audio notification in Tweetdeck when there's something new. That's awesome.
Facebook is all about the notifications - why not let me get a special notification when someone in a particular group has posted an update?
- Shareable Groups, Suggestions etc.
For years Twitter has been fundamentally public and Facebook private, but for better or for worse that's changing on Facebook. Isn't it time for Facebook to offer bundles of pages or people that you can follow all at once? Twitter and Tweetdeck make this easy with lists, sharable lists and the Tweetdeck directory of recommended lists to follow. Facebook users would love something like that! My college newspaper staff as one big list of Facebook users to follow? My football team? Suzy Bright's curated list of top sex writers to follow on Facebook? People would eat that kind of stuff up.
- Keyword Filters
Last week I was working when the season premier of Lost came on TV. I'm likely to watch it later on DVD. Tweetdeck let me add a filter to all of my groups to hide any posts that included the word Lost! Sick of hearing about the iPad? No problem! Tweetdeck does a great job of building value on top of these groups of contacts: filter for, filter out keywords, analyze a group for its most-used words. There are lots of possibilities. Facebook users would probably like these same options.
- A Group for New Friends
Tweetdeck has a great feature that lets you create a column to display the bios of people who have just started following you. From there you can click once to follow them back. Facebook could easily do something like that, bring new friends and/or recommended friends up higher into a very visible place in the interface. Facebook wants users to go beyond connecting with people they already know in real life (sorry, users, that's what Facebook has decided) so why not create a group that's made up of people who are fans of the same pages you are or are otherwise recommended to connect with?
There are all kinds of ways that Facebook could offer meaningful support for user groups and turn the News Feed into a more powerful tool, with more control for users and more value in the long run. Tweetdeck is doing a pretty darned good job of exactly that.