Monday, October 15, 2007

There are lots of types of information I want to search and browser, but it's typically information that I want to see right now. I also want to be notified about new information and changes to information. Emails, text messages, and pager alerts are ways to send this information to me. Feeds are a little different in that they're controlled by the receiver pulling information rather than the sender pushing it. All of these systems allow senders to transmit messages to receivers. However all of them treat each message separately.

What I really want is information, not a set of messages. The messages should be grouped and summarized. Gmail for example groups messages into conversations. Facebook groups and summarizes friend updates. For example instead of separately telling me, “A is a friend of D”, “B is a friend of D”, and “C is a friend of D”, Facebook will tell me “A, B, and C are friends of D”. They can do this because they know the structure, not only text, of messages, and also because they know when I last read messages.

There are lots more things I'd like to see along these lines. For example if I receive 100 messages telling me my site is down, and I'm away from my computer, I'd like them to be combined together. Or if the site is back up maybe those messages should go away, replaced by a note saying the site went down and back up. If I get a traffic alert it should expire when the traffic clears up again. If I read news every hour I want to see what's new in the past hour but if I read news once a week I want to see the week's biggest stories, not the 168 hours of updates. When I come back from vacation I shouldn't have lots of low-importance and redundant messages. Group and summarize. Show me what's important. Don't overwhelm me with every individual message.

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