Blog Post

Strands & Twine: Sipping From the Information Firehose

I am once again overwhelmed by too much information.

And lately, I’m even overwhelmed by too many tools to access, filter and read that information or to save it for later or add it to various Web 2.0 tools.

On my browser bar alone I have my Google Reader Subscribe button and the ability to save information to Kirtsy,, Second Brain, Instapaper, Evernote, Tumblr, and more recently Strands and Twine.

Before I talk a little more about Strands and Twine, I have to voice a few complaints:

  1. I’m getting tired of having to learn new iconography every time a new site launches and decides to create a unique set of icons to represent the same functionality found on their competitors’ sites. I would love for everyone to adopt a basic set of icons to illustrate features such as Profile, Settings, Publish, etc. so I’m not trying to figure out that that stapler icon means files. Kudos for the adoption of the RSS feed symbol. Let’s get more of those universal icons, please.
  2. I’m growing weary of all this new terminology that is proprietary to a particular site. Do new companies really believe that their terminology will become the definitive words that we’ll be using 5, 10 years from now? I mean every one of them? What struck me during the demos of both Strands and Twine (which I like, by the way, so don’t let this rant confuse you), is that “strands” and “twine” both basically stand for “interests.” Why not call them “Interests”???

Phew! Okay. Got that off my chest. Now on to Strands and Twine.

Strands all categories
Strands all categories

Passively Consuming Your Strands

Strands was developed for the general consumer of information, not the turbo-powered, obsessive info-junkie like many of us. More like your mom or dad type of consumer. But let me tell you right off the bat: while I think Strands is providing some nice functionality, even I was getting a little confused and overwhelmed by how it works. is fitting in between Lifestreaming where information constantly publishes without a lot of rhyme or reason and Friendfeed style aggregation where content tends to drop into a black vortex of overload. Strands is trying to let you find cool people who publish cool stuff based on your tastes – stuff you really want to learn about – quality versus quantity. The crux of Strands’ offerings is their “social recommendation technology.”

The premise of Strands is that not everyone wants to publish content but instead wants to consume good and relevant content, says Drew Olanoff, Community Manager and Evangelist for Strands.

As an avid publisher, I had a hard time wrapping my head around that, but then I had to think about my own Mom and Dad and realized that yes, there are people in this world who are not compelled to publish content online.

Strand allows you to filter the content being served up by the people you are following. You like their blog posts but not their tweets? You can flip the virtual switches to distill their content to the most consumable format based on your preferences. You can also refine the stream of content you receive by people and by categories such as bookmarks, books, events, images, movies & TV, and music.

You can also mark the content you like and dislike or save content which in turn feeds into the site’s recommendation technology to further refine the content you see.

And for those who are new to social media tools, Strands is about to offer a setup wizard to help prompt the uninitiated who want to discover the most relevant Strands for their needs. And this week, Strands announced a partnership with SkyMall – the inflight products catalog. SkyMall’s web site will integrate the “Strands Social Recommender” engine to enhance the online shopping experience and provide more relevant product suggestions to shoppers.


Recommendations to the Nth Degree

Taking recommendation technology to a whole new level, Twine calls itself the “first consumer application for the Semantic Web.” They almost lost me on that one as I still try to wrap my head around the concepts around the Semantic Web, but it sure did sound exciting.

As always, I turned to Wikipedia for a definition:

The Semantic Web is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content.

The bottom line here is that Twine’s technology is constantly chewing on everything you do on the site to churn out more and more refined and relevant results and recommendations.

Twine page
Twine page

Twine helps you track your interests. You can join a Twine (topic-specific “group” where everyone publishes content related to that topic) and can comment on that content or you can start a Twine. As you add Twines that you want to follow, the backend recommendation system makes detailed notes about what you are selecting and begins pushing content to you on the right side of your screen. That right margin of the page is chock full of information options such as

  • Recommended Twines
  • Recommended Members

and as you drill deeper into a Twine, you also get recommended

  • Places
  • People
  • Organizations
  • Other tags
  • and Recommended Items

All of the recommended content in the above categories shows up as tag clouds so the most relevant or extensive appear in a larger font.

Despite all of these intensely rich recommendation options, I have to admit that I didn’t even NOTICE the right margin options for more information until it was literally pointed out to me. Note to user: Don’t ignore those boxes and options on the right side of your screen when you are digging through Twine – lots of hidden treasures there for you to discover!

Because I’m an avid publisher, Twine founder Nova Spivack recommended that I publish a Public Twine. Spivack says that he has stopped publishing on other sites and now uses his Public Twine as the hub of all of his new content.

Twine as a company is looking to monetize their semantic profiling by signing up advertisers who want to develop relevant content that can be fed to consumers with what is described as laser-like precision. Consumers, says Spivack, will consume advertising if it is their content feed and related to a topic they are really interested in. Twine can be an intermediary between users and marketers with the operative word of that relationship being “relevance.” All marketing messages, of course, will be noted as such so it won’t be as if an ad were slipped into your content stream surreptitiously.

When you create a Twine, you can configure it to have blog-like features or wiki-like features, that is, either it is for you to publish exclusively such as your Public Twine or it is for the community to publish along with you. You can make a Twine, add items, invite others to participate, and manage the Twine. You can also share Twines and subscribe to Twine RSS feeds. Grab the Twine bookmarklet as well to easily add content to any of your Twines including several at once.

Strands, Twine, and Other Filters

I’m all for filtering the unmanageable onslaught of information that plagues all of us.

I believe that each of us will find the tool that is right for us and master that tool to become our ultimate filter. Strands and Twine are only two of the many options out there for this kind of filtering. I like the way recommendation technology is becoming more robust and also more mainstream as the defacto underlying functionality of these sites.

But I have to say, at some point, we’ll need filters to filter the filterers. There are many out there and many more to come. For now, I think I’m going to focus in on Twine. Now that I know a little more of what it does (and my brain and this post only scratches the surface), I’m getting excited about the possibilities.

What are you using these days to filter out the noise? And is it working?

6 Responses to “Strands & Twine: Sipping From the Information Firehose”

  1. Aliza, thank you for talking about Strands, it helps get us more feedback to make an even rockin’r service. Yeah I imade up a word.

    Think of Strands as a straw to just sip a bit from the Firehose. A cool swirly straw that lets you drink at your own pace and wet your whistle enough to get down to what you want to find.

  2. Rick – I think that is the point of these tools – that while there is suggested content that each provides based on your preferences, the real goal of each tool is to distill the onslaught of info and give you what you really really want/need using smarter tools on the backend.

  3. I have to admit I just scanned this as both sites sound interesting for people who just HAVE to know everything that’s happening right away. But, frankly, don’t we need to reexamine that goal in the first place? We seem to accept that more and faster is always better… but we need to start asking why we need to know everything right now and how it improves our lives.

    I’m far more interested in way I can find what I want, when I might need it even if it’s not something I realized I needed until just NOW. In other words, I don’t want technology to first overload me with unprocessed information and then process it in an attempt to help with that overload… I want technology to give me tools I can conjure with, summoning what I need when I need it. The technology and the information are there to serve me, not me to worship them.