When I first started using Quora, I followed a set of topics that clustered tightly around 2-3 nodes (startups, VC, internet television). My stream was super rewarding to consume — it just felt coherent and deep. But as I’ve explored the service more and followed more people and topics, my stream’s degraded noticeably in terms of what I get out of it. What was once a rich experience is now frenetic and confused. But so far, I haven’t found a way to make the service manageable again without sacrificing a content set that I’ve spent a long time curating. Pruning topics would be like throwing out books„ and I just hate that shit.
Twitter suffers from the same problem, although oddly, I’m more ruthless about unfollowing people whose tweets no longer interest me than topics whose content I’ve left for a while. Still, both services face an interesting challenge: the more a user explores the service, the more they dilute the focus of their experience. The nature of the stream is so low friction, it’s just too easy to let yourself push past the efficient frontier of breadth vs. depth. This was less a problem in with higher friction forms of consumption. Before, when I wanted to listen to a CD or read an article, I had to think about what I wanted to hear or read, then actively seek it out, sometimes by even (gasp) walking across the room. But that’s not the case anymore. Now, I just sit and watch the choices go by me, picking out and pursuing the ideas that catch my eye. I’m lazy, so that’s great, but it’s also a different — and in many ways less fulfilling — experience than I had when I was forced to trade attention for effort. This is the problem Twitter and Quora and all other services built around curated streams: few of us are actually good at curation. To win this space, a company must — through teaching or tooling — help users become good curators. Otherwise, they risk letting users turn their streams into a mess, and no one wants that, right?