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An arbitrary link to a blog post or comment thread is unlikely to get my attention, but if Mary Hodder takes the time to mention something, I'm much more likely to click through and check it out.


As Randy Farmer is fond of reminding us, "context is king." As human beings, we rely on context to derive meaning from our sensory inputs. One of the unfortunate side effects of augmented universal oversharing is that we get these streams (torrents, really) of updates and objects from all of our connections across multiple social facets, usually with most or all originating on conceptual context stripped away.

This dissolution of context is alienating and disorienting for most normal people. Even those of us who are capable at times of surfing these unrestrained information feeds usually eventually grow weary of the onslaught.

The first resort for most people is "social filtering," meaning relying on the pointers of friends and those we follow for deciding what to pay attention to. The ordinary follow and subscribe interfaces suffice for enabling users to "tune in" to the recommendations of others, but you can use this pattern to give people additional handles on which to filter for context.


Use this pattern when the potential for information overload and jumbling together of unrelated contexts grows intolerable.


Provide affordances for restoring (or, if necessary, imposing) contextual filters on data streams so that they can be parsed in more manageable groupings.

If I go to Robert Scoble's Friendfeed page, I get a jumble of his activities and objects across numerous contexts.

When I choose the miniature YouTube icon, Robert's activity stream is filtered for me, to show just the most recent videos he has marked as a favorite (and the public conversations around them).

Facebook now offers a non-loss activity stream (just like FriendFeed's) and provides you with a customizable list of filters for focusing the stream.

Filtering can also be achieved by giving users a way to hide people or specific types of objects. Instead of singling out a context and showing just items in that that context, which tends to be a temporary choice, hiding involve singling out a context and filtering items in that context out of view.

Facebook also gives you the ability to hide people or categories of objects). Don't worry, Marc: I didn't really hide you!

People will also use leaderboards, favorites, and other "best of" tools as an attempt to filter on quality.

Another way people manage their attention is by filtering on favorites or "best of." as with this tweet I found on Favrd.


Giving people the ability to filter incoming information based on various contexts (type of content, closeness of relationship to the sender, timeframes), enables them to get establish a stable point of view from which to explore the rich neverending stream of new objects and information.

Related Patterns/Resources

As Seen On

  • Friendfeed
  • Facebook
  • Google Reader