The News Feed - A Powerful UI Innovation
Google's decision to put a single search box all by itself on the front page of google.com 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.