I’ve spoken time and again about how much I miss Google Reader Shared Items. I loved how I was able to see the items being shared by those I was connected to in what was really an under-utilized social network and share my own items of interest with them in return. That was a great way to be exposed to new posts and stories that may fall out my regular reading habits.
More recently that void has been filled to some extent by Nuzzel, the app that uses social signals such as Tweets to show you what your network is talking about. I’m getting alerts all the time that “5 friends shared: “ a particular story, which in many cases I would have otherwise missed. It allows me to see what stories are circulating widely and consider giving them some additional attention.
Now Twitter is building its own version of that idea with the introduction of Popular Articles. Available in the “Discover” section of the app, it shows you stories your network is engaging with and sharing as well as more stories from your local area.
While I’ve decried the influence social networks have exerted over news discovery and consumption, with algorithms that take the place of your own judgment, features like this and Nuzzel are different. Instead of assuming you can’t make your own choices and using unknown signals to decide what you see, these tools surface what’s best in your network.
That’s a value-add, particularly in an environment such as Twitter’s where the timeline moves so fast it’s easy to miss things if you’re not watching 24 hours a day. It enables you to get the pulse of your network, seeing what they obviously feels is important.
It’s also much better than Twitter’s “In Case You Missed It” feature, which inserts a chunk of old updates toward the top of the timeline. Those stale tweets may be what Twitter thinks are relevant, but they create a disjointed experience, introducing time-shifting where none should exist.
I’m sure there’s room enough for both Twitter’s Popular Articles and the continued success of Nuzzel, which has built up a good reputation over the last few years. Both play a valuable role in a media world that sometimes moves faster than one person can handle and can easily become an echo-chamber devoid of new or outside thinking.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.