What’s more productive? A stream or a page? A debate

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@Scobleizer My point is that I think Flipboard is a nice imitation of a print magazine. But isn’t that a step backwards?less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Nova Spivak has been debating with me tonight about how much more efficient he feels news readers are if they stream items down like you’ll see on Twitter.com, or in social media clients like Seesmic or Tweetdeck bring.

I used to agree with him. It was hard to get me away from Seesmic or Tweetie.

But now? I’m a changed man.

Keep in mind that I read about 19,000 inbound on Twitter alone. On Facebook I have 1,800 friends and on Google Buzz I’m following more than 1,000.

I read a LOT of social media. Heck, in the past year alone I’ve FAVORITED 20,000 tweets! (Not counting the ones I’ve retweeted).

So, I’m always looking to be more productive. Yes, I’ve tried Pulse and I’ve tried lots of other readers (I was one of the first to use NewsGator and Google Reader). But nothing is as productive — for me — as Flipboard is.

I actually measured this. I got about 30% more favorites done in a day using Flipboard than I got done in the same amount of time with a streaming reader. And using Flipboard is 10x more fun!

Why is this?

For that I have to go back to my newspaper design class. I remember that early eye tracking research showed that pages that had a single headline that was twice as big as any other headline were more likely to be read. Same for pages with photos. If you put two photos of equal size on the page, it would be looked at less often, or less completely, than a page that had a photo that was at least twice as big as any other.

I won a newspaper design contest in college because of this — my designs made sure that they included headlines that were twice as big as any other and photos that were twice as big as any other.

This might not seem intuitive, but it is how our brains work and eye track research has proven that over and over again. Some of my favorite reading studies were done by the Poynter institute, here’s one such study.

Notice that having large headlines and photos gives eyes an entry point onto the page.

Now, what’s missing in, say, Seesmic or Tweetdeck? That’s right. Any kind of editorial weighting to the headlines and photos are totally missing. Entry points are gone.

Not all tweets are the same. One about Apple’s financial results SHOULD be bigger and more important than one about what I had for lunch today. In Flipboard, which isn’t always perfect because it’s done by algorithms, there is weight and photos and an attractive design.

I’ve come to realize that we’ve actually gone backward in our news media design in the past few years as we’ve gone away from newspaper and magazine-style layouts and toward streams.

One other thing I’ve noticed: my eyes get less strained after using Flipboard for four straight hours when compared to using Twitter’s iPhone or Android apps, or Seesmic or Tweetdeck style apps. In looking why, it gets back to this weighting. Our brains are awesome pattern recognizers and our brains like it when there’s a clear pattern of “look here first, look here second, look here third.” In streams that pattern is gone completely, other than “look at the newest thing first, then this second newest thing, then this third.” That might seem to be more efficient, but it really is not.

Not to mention that a LOT of what value we get out of the world is photographic or videographic.

On tweets you just get a bit.ly link on most readers. Not in Flipboard. That makes it MUCH more productive.

How about for you? Which do you prefer? Streaming like Seesmic or Tweetdeck? Or paginated like Flipboard?