Consider the Albatross: Foraging and Activity Feeds
Lévy flights are seen in the behavior of many animals. It’s the pattern that emerges when an animal darts around randomly in one area foraging for food (exhibiting Brownian motion) then, once they feel they’ve used up all the likely food sources, heads off in a random direction to a brand new area, and forages there. In the case of the albatross, that leap to a new area can mean a flight in a straight line across an ocean. Lévy flights are “random movements that can maximize the efficiency of resource searches in uncertain environments.”
- Randomly distributed
- Once visited, are not depleted, but remain targets for future searches
He argues that Brownian motion makes sense for activity feed usage on “campfire” social networks, like Facebook. But Quora thrives on novelty and new connections, the effects of which can be addictive. “The kind of people who could make Quora great are allergic to sameness and want intellectual challenge. They need Lévy flights.”
This is actually how I experience the Etsy activity feed.
Etsy is a rich environment but also an uncertain one, in that you’ve never seen most of things you’re likely to encounter there in a given session. It can be a murky or overwhelming place with short sightlines, like Kite says Quora is, until you get plugged in and start receiving guidance from the right people implicitly. Etsy’s activity feed, and the clues it can provide from other foragers, can facilitate leaps to new areas and lead to transactions you weren’t planning on. This ends up being addictive.
This Lévy flight post is a good example of why I like Quora, and why I’ve been gradually getting pulled in deeper and deeper since Quora engineer Tracy Chou startled me out of lurker mode with a direct question—the site is populated with smart people offering interesting perspectives on fields outside their own, in addition to their own. In this case, a grad student studying astrophysics and working on the the early Mars climate problem has me thinking about applying bird flight patterns to activity feed design. That doesn’t happen on a lot of websites.