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I'm starting out on building an application that will be a hybrid of a messaging application, but with "news feed" like qualities. These qualities being rich media, advertisement, and conversations threaded by day.

What is the logic of the sorting of the news feed, with newest on top, vs the sorting of most messaging apps (google talk, facebook messenger, AIM, most irc clients)?

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3 Answers

Interesting. I think you could leave this (and another) option to your users.

  • I want to see posts in [ ] Ascending [x] Decending order
  • I want to see replies in [x] Threaded [ ] Flat mode

Leaving the options to the user is never a bad thing. But you need to figure out what you would like to have as default option.

My friend at Malmö University, André Mabande, wrote his Bachelor degree on the topic with the title Designing for Dialogue. He concludes that:

The findings in this study seem to validate the hypothesis of the chronology as a major factor for generating a consistent discussion within a commenting field. When comments are shown in the order posted (i.e. later posts after earlier in the order of reading) the amount of replies to a specific post are significantly higher than when shown in the reverse chronological order.

It's something to concider when you design any kind of social feed. Mr Mabande also gives some advice on how to design for the most interaction:

To create a path of action that leads the user into conversating with others about the topic the design should display comments chronologically with the comment posting section placed after the last visible comment. Also more than 20 comments should be shown to give the user an incentive to read a large section of what’s been previously posted to increase the possibility to see the context of the discussion. Whether a single-thread or a multi-thread structure should be chosen is up for debate, but I would recommend the single-threaded due to the risk of repetition in the different branches of the multi-threaded design.

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Thanks for the answers so far guys. I'm getting the sense that conversation pieces are sorted by newest, and conversation is sorted by oldest. –  William Mar 21 '13 at 20:46
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In one situation, you are starting a new (one way) conversation. In the other, you are responding to one. If we respond to someone, it's pretty normal that it is placed on 'the end' (it follows). I believe that in our mental model, things end on the bottom, never on top.

I would recommend that you always put new items on top, except if the reason for the new item's existence is based on a previous item. In that case, it has to follow, not lead.

Benny Skogberg also has a valid point in letting your users decide how they want to access information, but I wouldn't place that much effort in such 'luxuries'. Focus on getting the initial concept (combining the news feed and instant messaging together) as good and as early as possible to your users and get feedback.

Good luck with the application!

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I think you have a great point, and that's what will present a challenge to the design of the application. –  William Mar 21 '13 at 20:47
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As a newsfeed, having the last information at the top seems like a good default since what matters the most is the most recent timestamp, regardless of your news unit nature (rich media, conversation, etc) and of its publication platform.

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