With Twitter about to launch a new Topics feature, I’ve been thinking about some of the different ways Twitter and Reddit try to help users engage with content streams.

What Reddit gets right

Reddit beats Twitter at a few areas:

Content overload

Both Reddit and Twitter suffer from potentially overloading consumers with low-value or irrelevant content. Partly this is because subscribing to a Reddit subreddit or Twitter account is a pretty binary action. Apart from whatever algorithmic tinkering they apply to your feed, your choice is to ‘subscribe’, not ‘subscribe to all posts with at least 50 upvotes/likes’, or ‘subscribe to top 10 posts each day from this subreddit/user’, or ‘subscribe to this user’s posts about technology but not politics’. (This latter point is one they mention they’re thinking about in the Topics context.)

I don’t think algorithms have really solved this question, and users are left with insufficient controls to tune their feeds. I’d be interested to know whether Reddit and Twitter think that users wouldn’t actually use these controls anyway, and they really have to take central control via algorithms. But Facebook does provide useful options here: ‘see less of this kind of post’, ‘snooze this user for 30 days’, ‘hide this user’ all give the user more explicit control and feedback mechanisms. Onboarding is also obviously important here; all three platforms seem to have recognised this and prompt you to find relevant communities/topics/accounts when you sign up.

Twitter should help you find people

Although I’ll be interested to see where Twitter goes with Topics, for now, it’s a heavily account-centric model. But apart from occasional suggestions based on something like network similarity, it doesn’t do much to help you find interesting accounts to follow. Some ways it could do this:

Takeaway

As the amount of content continues to explode, curation will become increasingly important. The rise of email newsletters (e.g. Substack, The Browser) seems to be partly an example of this. But it will also be vital for the core platforms themselves to keep making it easy for people to find useful content. Many of these lessons apply to other verticals too: how does any piece of enterprise software deliver the right content to the people who need to see it? Slack, Salesforce, Outlook and other platforms all confront the same issue, but the discovery and surfacing mechanisms haven’t evolved much over time. An opportunity, perhaps.