The FlowReader we launched in June 2013 was very different from the initial idea we began with and like any project, it went through a series of stages and changes before we released the public version.

I won’t say, the “final product” since a web application is really never finished or perfected. It is continually evolving and growing according to the demands of its users and its market environment.

In today’s post, I’d like to share how our team ended up with its current vision of FlowReader.

It started with the 1%

FlowReader really got it’s start from the “One Percent Rule” (also known as the 90-9-1 Principle). For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the One Percent Rule is the social web’s version of the Pareto Principle that emerged around 2006 and refers to the way people participate and connect with one another within an internet community.

Definition:

The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the internet represents approximately 1% (or less) of the people actually viewing the content.

So, if you were to apply the One Percent Rule to a group of 100 people in an online community this would be the approximate breakdown:

  • 1 person will create content

  • 10 people will interact with it in some way (e.g. commenting)

  • 89 people will view it without interacting

510px-1percentrule

The One Percent Rule

Based on this principle, there are a lot of people who are simply consumers of content, or as the industry has fondly tagged them, Lurkers.

Let lurkers lurk 

Our founder, Michal Illich, originally had the idea for FlowReader as a tool for someone that wanted to simply observe content on the internet without wanting forcing any active participation.

He often consumed content on social networks without engaging and was struck with the idea that it would be great to have a service that let someone peruse content from multiple social networks in one place.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether the One Percent Rule is dead or alive in recent years, but at the time, we felt there was a lot of solid evidence that showed its continued relevance.

In its September 2012 report on social media, GlobalWebIndex stated:

“As users become more passive over time and increasingly turn to people in the public eye or well-known organisations for interesting content, social will increasingly become a broadcast channel.”

And even though, BBC’s Holly Goodier recently suggested that the One Percent Rule has reached its natural end as online social behavior evolves to accommodate a fast growing, richer internet culture – there is still a large group of users who passively interact with content and rarely initiate engagement.

Using that as a jumping off point, we decide that FlowReader needed to be something that complemented the internet culture of lurking.

That’s why FlowReader was originally designed as a reader for Facebook’s Newsfeed and Twitter’s Timeline.

an older screenshot of FlowReader

An older version of FlowReader

There are so many applications out there that are designed around creating content. We wanted FlowReader to be a tool that could be useful to people who just wanted to read it.

RSS is still relevant

So, where does RSS come into the story? In early January 2013, we decided that we wanted to support for RSS feeds in FlowReader.

There were a couple of reasons behind this decision:

Reason #1: RSS might be down, but it’s not dead yet.

First, we felt that RSS is still very much a relevant part of the internet. It is a big part of the way information is received and consumed today, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Although the demand for RSS has been undergoing a gradual decline for awhile now, we didn’t feel that we could completely rule out its place in FlowReader.

Yes, over 1.9 millions sites might have closed down their RSS feed subscriptions in the last quarter, but according to BuiltWith, it is still the leading form of content syndication on the web.

feed usage statistics pie chart

via BuiltWith.com

RSS’s downward spiral is often blamed on the rise of social media networks, and the belief there is no longer a need for users to go outside their networks to find news. However, Social Media Today made a great point about considering what type of people really use RSS on a regular basis.

Sure, the average individual use of RSS has declined as result of social networks like Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. Still, RSS is crucial to the professional ecosystem we’ve been building, and a lot of journalists, bloggers, and businesses depend on it as a way to stay or keep others informed.

Many syndication sites would die out if there weren’t RSS feeds to sustain them, and many professionals these days aren’t interested in getting their news off networks. For these parties, by the time it’s on Facebook or Twitter – it’s no longer a new story.

Reason #2: We see a more streamlined future.

One of the other things we discussed a lot at the beginning of the year is what our vision is for the future of the digital world. A pretty tough discussion, since the speed at which the internet and web development are changing these days is incredible.

comic

via buckingrich.com

I asked one of our product owners, Zaira Kulsariyeva, to share her thoughts about the decision:

“At the time, I just felt it was a good idea. I think the internet in the future will provide us with clustered (or sorted) information that will be streamed to several larger places (ideally, one place), instead of a number of smaller ones. FlowReader combining social feeds and RSS was compliant with that vision, and also a step towards it.”

Our team has been confident about the change we made, and especially with the shutdown of Google Reader it proved to be an incredible opportunity for us. However, it also forced us to pivot our focus for FlowReader.

We had started out with the idea of supplying a passive group with a tool to help them streamline their content. With the addition of RSS, we had to re-evaluate who would benefit the most from FlowReader…and we weren’t so sure it was passive anymore.

 Where we are today 

Today, FlowReader is what we consider to be a new kind of reader. It updates the classic RSS reader to fit into a new content landscape that has evolved to accommodate new sources, such as social networks.

When we brought RSS into the mix, we had to re-evalute and pivot our focus. This meant considering the fact that together RSS and social media meant something altogether more interactive. FlowReader is still about discovery, but now it’s also about sharing those discoveries with others.

FlowReader is for anyone who wants and needs to stay informed about their areas of interest, whether it be from blogs and websites, or from content shared on a social platform. We want people to be able to balance all those modern sources of content out there and help them make sure they’re maximizing their resources.

What’s the future hold?

It’s hard to say at this point. Trust me, there’s no shortage of ideas about what a unique and modern reader should be from our team. We talk a lot about adding more complex filtering options that would allow you to add parameters like keywords, specific users, or networks.

It’s also a major goal of ours to not only add more social networks, but make sure that the way FlowReader manages that content is both simple and sophisticated. The team has also been discussing ways we can incorporate newer technologies, like machine-learning, to allow our readers to discover content that is related to their tastes and interests.

That being said, we’ve got a lot of work before we’re at that point. Right now, the main focus of the team is to improve what we have and make sure it lives up to (even better – that it exceeds!) the expectations of our users.

However, we are extremely excited for when the day comes, and we’re working hard towards making it happen!

What is your idea of the perfect modern reader? You can leave us a comment here or catch up with us on Facebook or @flow_reader. We also love hearing from people on our feedback forum. So, don’t be shy!