InfoStream Visualizations: Goals and Priorities

(Note: If you haven't read my previous post: I Need You: Twitter, Information Overload, and Work Flow, you might want to give it a quick run through before you continue.)

After laying out the foundations of my project in the last post, I've been doing quite a bit of reading, questioning, and researching. Now it's time to lay out some goals and priorities to help constrain design process.

Overarching Design Goals:
1) Create visualizations of twitter streams (and more broadly, social network streams) that represent multiple layers of detail and abstraction.
Why? To prevent information overload and interruption. High level views should be "glance-able" - I should be able to get a general understanding of what is going on in the network through just a quick glance of the application.

2) Design these levels to smoothly transition from one to another. It should feel like a continuous transition instead of discrete, blocky states.
Why? The view will constantly be adjusting to your current state of focus, trying to limit distraction. The transitions themselves should not be distracting.

What is Important?
The difficult part in trying to create a birds-eye view is that we have to determine What is most important? What should we preserve at different levels? What best represents the community as a whole? Here is a list of priorities I have come up with for Twitter.

Replies/Direct Messages: This is seems pretty obvious, but I am going to be most interested in messages that are directly intended for me. They should be given a very high priority.. and most of their content should be preserved.
Community Value: Which messages are RT the most? Tweets that are considered most valuable to the community are often shared the most.
Community Trends: This is often demonstrated by "trending topics" on the Twitter search page. I'm sure that this largely corresponds to which messages are being RT the most, but I'm not ready to combine them just yet.
Locale: Messages that happen geographically close to me may be more interesting than those that occur 2,000 miles away. They open up the opportunity for meetings or events I'm interested in.
External Links: A lot of the content happens outside of the Twittersphere - blogs, news articles, YouTube videos. This shouldn't be completely lost in a representation of the community.
Interest Based Messages: This is a little tricky because I can't make a sweeping generalization about what a person's interests may be. For me, I always like reading about HCI, Boston, and the Bills. But the fact that my next door neighbor doesn't like the Bills shouldn't mitigate Terrel Owens newfound presence in my Twitter stream (For better or for worse).

A lot of thanks to @JesseNewhart 's YouTube video titled "How to Follow 15000+ People on Twitter Using these TweetDeck Tips". It helped me understand the process of someone who is forced to process an enormous Twitter stream.

Sweeping generalizations are dangerous: Representing a stream in a high-level visualization means that I have to do some generalizing. Unfortunately, this also means making decisions for people about what I think should be most important to them. I'm not sure this is healthy or helpful. Either a filtering or priority system should probably be included in the final design.

Transitioning from an overview to individual messages is difficult: I can imagine several visualization techniques that give beautiful overviews of some of the information listed in the previous section. I can even imagine the ability to zoom in and out of them to create multiple layers of detail. However, the difficulty comes in representing the deepest layer of detail: each individual tweet. How do I smoothly transition from a visualization to an individual message?

Your Input is Needed!
Get used to seeing a message like this at the conclusion of all my posts for this project. But it's true! I am trying to design visualizations for the Twitter community. Instead of trying to guess what you think and need, I'm asking you. Comment, send me a Twitter message, or send me an email (evanpeck [at] gmail.com). I want to hear from you.

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