Sushi Boats and Yahoo! 360

I’ve put off commenting on Yahoo! 360 for a number for reasons (including finding out that a personal friend and former co-worker is part of the product mgmt team leading its development!), but I just read a smart bit from Marc Canter that makes me want to speak up. Marc says:

“So I’m seeing soemthing alittle different here on Y 360. The inter-blogging is different than other places. Since we all can see each other’s internal blog posts and I (at least) have been returning here (as it’s the SNS du jour) – I’m now reading these blog posts from my friends here.”

So Marc’s hit on the one thing (*) that I think is a of particular note about Yahoo! 360. Before diving into it, let me add a bit more context…

Dave Winer has previously talked about his preferred news reading (or more specifically, skimming) presentation mode, which he calls A River Of News:

“Instead of having to hunt for new stories by clicking on the titles of feeds, you just view the page of new stuff and scroll through it. It’s like sitting on the bank of a river, watching the boats go by. If you miss one, no big deal. You can even make the river flow backward by moving the scollbar up. To me, this more approximates the way I read a print newspaper, actually it’s the way I wish I could read a print newspaper — instead of having to go to the stories, they come to me. This makes it easier for me to use my brain’s powerful scanning mechanism. It’s faster, I can subscribe to more, and my fingers do less work.”

He also uses another metaphor for the textually impaired, “conveyor-belt sushi”.

The problem with the sushi metaphor is that sushi boat delivery is effectually a closed system. There are a finite number of types of fish shipped through the system, and most are visually distinct enough that it’s easy to quickly identify the one(s) of your liking; and if not, each is played on a unique plate design, to aid you in identifying fish (and billing you for what you’ve eaten).

And so, there lies the rub with many River Of News style aggregator implementations (at least in my personal experience); while the presentation mode is appealing, the variety of news sources and full article contents weakens the central value proposition of quick scanning.

Now, enter the Yahoo! 360 implementation. Each post contains a user profile image (and IM status), making it quick and easy to visually differentiate news source. And, rather than flowing the entire blog post, a small tease is presented. (While this does mean you ultimately have to “go to” the full story, the decreased amount of content improves scanning rate; it also encourages writers to make the first couple of sentences clear and compelling.)

Finally, Yahoo! 360’s “Blasts” (and Lists) are visually distinct from blog posts, making it obvious that the user is broadcasting a heads up to one and all. (At least amongst my Yahoo! 360 contacts, folks are using blasts for same day/last minute notification of meet-ups, etc.)

The only real weakness I see in this feature’s implementation (especially vs. Dave’s reference implementation description) is that only a half dozen or so of the latest updates are presented. While this is fine for small groups and low activity levels, it doesn’t scale well (hence the option to click-through to see updates 10 up, with paging and filtering). I’d like to see the team reconsider this in the next update to the Beta (both on the home page and in the dedicated update page). For the latter, minimally, consider add the paging and filtering options to the bottom of the page and allow for more than 10-up at a time. Ideally, open up and let the “update page” be a true meta-blog with its own RSS Feed…

(*) Actually, there is a second piece of functionality of note in 360; the users and groups permissioning scheme. While it is integral for 360’s mission, many a company has tried (and failed, often very badly) to present users & groups functionality to mainstream audiences. I hope — but doubt — Yahoo will share usage data; cracking the code would be good for a number of apps.

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