The News Feed - A Powerful UI Innovation

Google’s decision to put a single search box all by itself on the front page of was a stroke of genius. Doing that signaled that they were all about search and that they had the confidence that they could get you what you wanted with nothing more than a word or a phrase. Its been oft-imitated since then and search has taken its logical role on most every web page that I use regularly.

Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to make a wall street style news feed the central feature of the home page and the profile page at Facebook has been a huge reason for its recent success (and might also be the source of its growing pains).

Being able to quickly parse through what your friends are up to, in line, and in reverse chronological order is the cleanest and simplest way to navigate a social net.

And its been imitated all over the place these days. My days on the web start and end in three places: twitter, tumblr, and disqus. That’s where my social net is talking to me (and everyone else). All three of them include a facebook style news/friend feed as the central element of their user interface

Twitter does the best job of respecting the news feed. The entire service is basically a news feed/friend feed with a posting box at the top. I’d argue that this lightweight UI and the bias toward simplicity over feature creep is the biggest reason for twitter’s success to date.

I suggested everyone go set up a tumblr account in my friday post because that’s currently the only way to see the dashboard. Twitter may have nailed the simplicity of their feed, but the tumblr dashboard showcases the power of this UI in a social blogging system. Right from the dashboard/news feed you can read, reblog, follow, and see who is reblogging who. Its a killer interface that I have become addicted to in the past month.

Disqus is slowly but surely turning into a social net for comments. You can follow me on disqus and see all the comments that all your friends (including me) leave on disqus powered blogs. It’s that last line that bothers me. We need the owners of every comment system on the web (typepad, blogger, and worpress please pay attention) to open their apis so that they and disqus and others can create comment driven social nets

But that’s a digression. This post is about the news feed. Its simple, powerful, elegant, and will be coming to a website near you soon.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. ceonyc

    I don’t like it in LinkedIn at all…. seen it yet?

    1. RacerRick

      CEONYC might be the biggest linkedin user in the world, so if he doesn’t like it – look out!

      1. ceonyc

        LinkedIn is a fantastic utility to me… something bothers me aboutthe idea of making it more of a social place.

        1. RacerRick

          I agree. Totally. I will not be uploading a photo.

  2. Vishy Venugopalan

    @ceonyc: Yes, I don’t particularly like the LinkedIn update stream either. I suspect it’s because the feed does not adhere to the UI innovation Fred talks about above. Instead it’s a disparate bundle of updates (invitations, profile updates, people who joined) each displayed in their own category, which splits it up conceptually and may even give off the perception of information or design overload.News feeds from friends are picking up steam, thanks to services like Twitter and Tumblr. But if it hasn’t happened already, these updates too will eventually add to information overload. I’ve attempted to create basic time-slices for Twitter and Tumblr (or any other RSS feed) with a content-timing service called WhenGuard ( Here, you can provide an RSS feed URL and start and end times that you want to track it. WhenGuard gives you a special URL–known as a jitlink–which will start passing through updates from the RSS URL it aliases at the specified start time and expire after the specified end time.You can stick jitlinks in your RSS reader and follow interesting people only for the time that they are interesting. Want to see what Robert Scoble has to say, but only for the duration of the next Web20 conference? Create a WhenGuard jitlink around his Twitter feed around the right start and expiration dates and there you have it. Marry this jitlink to a perpetually caching RSS reader like Google Reader and you have a TiVo equivalent for RSS. See for more info.WhenGuard works not just for RSS content, but for any content that has a URL. Feedback is welcomed, as the service is still in its very early stages.

  3. RacerRick

    I think that the clean google homepage has probably been a source of frustration/growing pains for google as well so that’s a great comparison.

  4. RichK

    Your Disqus feed is very interesting. Doesn’t CoComment allow you to follow comments across many sites?

    1. jayanthi

      I’ve used that firefox plugin. It’s like a bookmarklet that saves pages for you to check back on. Doesn’t work particularly well IMO.

  5. Mel

    Fred — when you talk about “success” for Twitter, how do you qualify the word? It has been my experience that outside of the digerati, there are few users of twitter and even fewer who know about it.

  6. markslater

    fred – i agree – i am a commenter before i am a blogger, and similarly i would love to follow mt friends comments as it may draw me to a conversation that i would otherwise not participate in. I asked arrington to open up the techcrunch comments as i spend time there, and he told me that i should just use trackbacks.

  7. Joe Lazarus

    The interesting thing about the “news feed” layout, in addition to it’s simplicity, is that it has a strange effect of encouraging people to read every post till they catch up to where they left off last visit. It’s like going through your email inbox. I feel anxious till I’ve caught up. I don’t think I would read all my friends Tumblr / Twitter / Facebook messages if they were presented in a format other than reverse chronological. Of course the benefits of this layout quickly become problematic when you’re faced with too many messages and too many friends. My social inbox cup, it runneth over.

  8. Yen

    I find it overwhelming to keep track of the different feeds I am interested in given there are generally just the occassional snippets from friends, blogs and news sites that interest me and I prefer not to read everything that comes out of the firehose to get those! So, I agree that my day is too filled w/them, but I also look forward to the day that the newsfeeds have effective search based on reputation and contextual filters.

  9. Michael Hocter

    I think the Tumblr Dashboard is great, while I’m following a few people. But I wonder how it would scale, in terms of usability, if I was following hundreds or thousands of people.

    1. fredwilson

      God forbid!

  10. Dhru Purohit

    Disqus is the best. I have no idea why people are still using old school comment systems.

  11. Marengo

    The news feed is the new UI innovation. Currently the newsfeed is static – on Facebook, on Tumblr, on Twitter the news feed doesn’t change unless you hit refresh. At Marengo, we have made the news feed dynamic. View a screencast of our prototype here…Read about it here