Game design for filtering

Conventional wisdom is that ordinary folk won’t learn filtering. Bruce MacVarish blogged this point of view yesterday: “social / information / conversation overload is taking its toll on the value of social applications to many users. While the answer may be the introduction of more advanced “filters” (a la Shirky’s suggestion [there is no information overload, only filter failure]) not everyone will be ready to manage their social streams through finer and finer filters. The “Geeks” maybe… the “Normals” … no way.”

The assumption that ordinary folk won’t learn filtering is built into designs like Facebook’s news feed. On one tab, a raging stream of every single update; on the other tab, a set of highlights, chosen by Facebook’s algorithm, that is completely opaque and non-configurable to the user – Facebook knows best what is interesting to you.

I think the assumption is false, and related to a blind spot in conventional UI design. Nicole Lazzarro observed on Twitter yesterday that “GameDesign builds systems over time. UI/Interaction Design often looks no further than one click ahead.” In games, kids learn very complicated routines step by step. Games don’t present every tool and feature and clue all at once. Instead, they teach things a bit at a time. And it’s not presented as teaching, it’s discovery. Games pose challenges and enable people to discover solutions and gain skills, a bit at a time.

I suspect that people can learn, and designers can build ways for people can learn how to filter what they want to pay attention to out of the stream of noise. It will take principles of game design, progressive disclosure and progressive discovery.

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