Notes after 3 weeks of Stellar use

Stellar is a nifty social-web thingamajig built by uberblogger Jason Kottke. It aggregates “favorites” from a number of familiar social-media sources — so far Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and Vimeo. When one of the folks you follow on Stellar favorites something, it appears in your “flow.” What you end up with is a Twitter-like stream of images, videos, and tweets — all collected in one single place.

You may be asking how it’s different from, say, Twitter. The truth is that it’s very similar on the surface but different enough in a very fundamental and interesting way — at least so far. It’s essentially filtering and surfacing the best of the best stuff that your friends and followed are looking at or producing.

I’ve been using it for 3 weeks now and am kind of addicted to it. It reminds me a lot of Twitter circa 2006–2007, when it was more personal and had a higher signal-to-noise ratio — back before it became the brand-pimping behemoth it is today. (To be fair, if you’re careful about who you follow on Twitter and keep that list small, you’re probably still getting a more personal experience.)

It’s also similar to Twitter 1.0 in the fact that it’s very simple. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles to it — but the fact that it can back-favorite things across all the services it pulls from is pretty slick.

Small network of interesting people

I oversee six different Twitter accounts at Serious Eats — and then there’s my personal account. Between all those, I follow a lot of bloggers, writers, websites, chefs, etc., all of whom are trying to get attention for their posts, products, restaurants, what have you. Are all those links going to be worth clicking on? Of course not. But the majority of the items that come through my Stellar flow truly are clickworthy.

Granted, there doesn’t seem to be a huge number of people yet to follow on Stellar, and I’m only following 39, so things are naturally bound to be quieter there. Unlike Twitter, though, where I often feel compelled to follow people back across all accounts (even my personal) for “political” reasons (fostering/maintaining goodwill with the foodie community), on Stellar, I think I’m going to focus more on following people I find truly interesting and hope in turn that their favorites are clicked with sincerity.

Favoriting behavior affected

That brings me to an interesting point. I’ve seen a number of my friends & followeds mention in tweets that using Stellar has changed how they favorite things. It’s affected my favoriting behavior as well:

  • I’ve favorited more things on Twitter and Flickr in the last 3 weeks than I have in the last 3 years*: Prior to using Stellar, I think I had starred a total of 3 tweets — and most of my Flickr faves were just “bookmarks” of pizza crap I wanted to come back to later. Now that faving these items shares them with my friends, I’m using that feature several times a day. But I’ve also noticed that…
  • I do most of my favoriting from Stellar: Because I find much more faveworthy stuff on Stellar than in my Twitter feeds, I often end up starring stuff on Stellar visits. This essentially is a snowball effect — and it means one of my friends has to have found the thing first
  • I am more conscious about what I fave now, too, knowing that there’s now a page that aggregates all the stuff I’ve liked across various networks
  • Sometimes, when I’m really bored, I look for great stuff to fave in the hopes that my Stellar friends will pile on a snowball that I’ve started. (This rarely happens, though)
  • Favoriting as a form of retweeting: Sometimes I just favorite things knowing my core of Stellar friends are going to see them. Sometimes that’s enough

* FWIW, I actually joined Flickr in August 2004 and Twitter (as @Slice, before opening my own account as @akuban) in November 2006,** so I’ve been using both more than 3 years. I just liked the parallelism of 3 weeks vs. 3 years — and the comparison still holds up.

** Officially the @Slice account registers as having been opened in March 2007, but that’s because I quit Twitter after a couple months and then rejoined a couple months later. Thank goodness @Slice was still available.

Stellar as a measure of wit

Like most people on Stellar, I suspect, I visit my Best Of page compulsively, secretly hoping people favorite a tweet of mine I think is especially witty or a photo I think is really strong. (This rarely happens, though.)

Trends are emerging

It’s not like I’m using any sort of analytics to measure Stellar trends (I’m sure Kottke is, though), but what I’ve noticed just from browsing day to day is that I can pretty accurately predict who among my friends & followeds has favorited an item before I even scroll down to the “Liked by” line.

I’m also surprised when I look at the faves of some people and see they’re relatively free of the things I most associate with them. Software developer Cabel Sasser*, for instance, doesn’t really favorite a lot of stuff that has to do with software dev. Mule design director Mike Monteiro doesn’t fave a lot of design things — but his flow is expectedly acerbic.

I would also point out that my own Faves have very little to do with pizza, despite what you might otherwise expect.

I should note that folks like Cabel Sasser or Marco Arment, who have an alphanumeric string in their Stellar profile URLs, seem to be people who are not members of Stellar but who have been placed on the network as follow candidates anyway — presumably by Jason or some sort of algorithm and presumably to give a larger pool of interesting people to follow. Trying to root out trends in their favoriting behavior is more problematic than usual as they are likely favoriting without mind toward how the Stellar community will receive them. They are, essentially, the observed, unaware of the observer.

Stellar is a preview

I’ve seen a lot of great stuff on Stellar eventually wind up on a few hours later or the next day. I can see why Jason built this thingamajigie. And if that’s not the reason why he built it, it’s interesting to see how closely the creation mirrors its creator — for now, that is. Stellar is still a closed community while it’s in beta — so the folks on there are only a degree or three away from Jason. Makes sense that the material surfacing there reflects his taste.

Jason better watch out! He might be building an auto-generating Kottkebot.

My Wishlist

I like the simplicity of Stellar, but there are at least two wishlist items I keep wanting to see …

  • Filter: Would have been nice during SXSWi and surrounding the launch of that Color app thingy. I realize it would be difficult to filter things and maybe the filter is “STOP FOLLOWING XYZ-PERSON.” But whatever. A guy can dream
  • Retweet option from Stellar page: Sometimes favoriting something for my friends to see is enough. But sometimes I’d like to RT something straight from Stellar. Yeah, I know I can click the “#” to go to the original item and RT it from there. But, hey, I’m lazy, too, and I like instant gratification

Anyway. Those are just a few of my thoughts on Stellar.

12 thoughts on “Notes after 3 weeks of Stellar use

    • I didn’t like favoriting things, either. Until Stellar. I saw it as pretty pointless, since Twitter doesn’t seem to do anything with those. I faved more often on Flickr than I did on Twitter as sort of a step-below-commenting-level of affirmation for friends’ photos. If you’ve had David Jacobs favorite any of your photos, I think that’s sort of how he uses the feature — like an attaboy pat on the shoulder.

      The only thing now, though, is that my favoriting is based largely on the fact I know it will appear in my friends’ Stellars. So it’s still stuff I like, but there’s now a sort of underlying motive. I’m not saying that’s good or bad — just something to be aware of.

  1. To be fair, Stellar users also favorite pictures of my SUPER GODDAMN CUTE SON. And is it just me, or do you tend to not want to follow people on Stellar if it says “Flickr only” or “Twitter only”? I don’t trust single-media people.

  2. Oh, and the self-monitoring thing, I *don’t* actually do on Stellar, mostly because I do it through Favstar and ThinkUp. But if I didn’t already have it, yeah, I’d look in there.

    And clearly, this is all Kottke’s attempt to replace himself with an app.

  3. @Anil: Yes. I don’t even have to check your Flickr page to see pictures of Malcom 😉

    I tend to think twice about following the “Flickr only” or “Twitter only” people. It’s been my observation that those people are:

    A) Not actual members of Stellar and just added b/c Jason thinks they’re interesting
    B) People for whom Jason could only find accounts on Twitter/Flickr

    I follow them if they seem interesting enough or I know them. It’s just a way to aggregate their favoriting activity in one place.

  4. I too am more conscious of the curatorial aspect of faving. This is especially noticeable with Flickr where up to now I’ve mostly used faves for keeping track of things I want to add to my random desktops folder.

    What it has made me particularly aware of is fave vs. retweet, since Stellar gives faving a retweetish quality, but with a different audience. I suspect if/when the audience for Stellar widens dramatically I will retweet less – saving it for when I need a “me too”.

    I too do a lot of faving within Stellar, but feel as though I need to also be finding fresh stuff. (What’s that old song about “You’ve got to prime the pump…”?)

    I am very excited about the potential for different scenarios of use of both Twitter and Stellar that Stellar opening up would afford:
    – Wearing my Discardia (philosophy/productivity/agile self development) hat I could use Twitter to broadcast and to follow (reading most or all tweets from) a few from whom I am likely to get content that I’ll want to retweet to my followers. Then I could use Stellar to follow widely, but have a filtered view of just what people love; that stream could be dipped in and out of without it needing to be a “keep up with everything” situation.

    – Wearing my cocktail nerd hat as Bibulous I’d follow freely and have only my mentions and replies showing in Tweetdeck, very occasionally viewing the current activity in the browser (as I do now), but Stellar would allow cool stuff that I rarely see to rise into view.

    – I’m already a big winnower of who I follow in my personal account as MetaGrrrl since it’s where I try to keep up and at least skim what’s going by. Folks move on and off my list there (e.g., delightfully snarky Mike_FTW who’s currently all about the baseball) a lot and Stellar will be great for reminding me of folks who I may want to bring back into the fold. Stellar will also give me a chance to stay somewhat tuned into those from whom I don’t read every tweet.

    Ah, interesting; there’s the feature I need: show me only the content by this person that other people I follow have faved. Could be a great way to tune in on one area of interest which I and friends share with that person, but not see as much of that person’s other tweeting on topics that don’t interest us.

    In general, though, even if Stellar didn’t change I think it would remain a daily link for me – and I have VERY few of those.

  5. Excellent review of an excellent web app. The section “Favoriting behavior affected” mimics my experience exactly.

    Also should note that I’m a big fan of MLKSHK for exactly the same reasons.

  6. @Dinah: I think we use Stellar very similarly, though you bring up some great ways I hadn’t thought of using it yet — namely the Bibulous hat. That sounds like a great strategy I think I could use.

    Interestingly, I’ve been finding some great food-related tweets on Stellar from people I don’t follow across any of my accounts. When I’ve retweeted those via @SeriousEats, I’ve seen our followers there RT those at a pretty high rate. No surprise — because they’ve been great tweets! Plus, it’s fun to find those and tweet them, since it helps break up the relentless pimping of Serious Eats links we/I do. I like to put some fun/random stuff into the mix to bring @SeriousEats followers small bits of joy throughout the day.

    @dvg: Thanks! I didn’t really set out to do a “review” — just had a lot of junk on my mind about Stellar that my wife did not want to listen to. Figured I’d burden the internet instead. … I havn’t tried MLKSHK yet, although I see it mentioned ALL THE TIME on Stellar 😉 I’ve been using Pinterest, which I think … um .. I don’t know — might be somewhat similar — photo/inspiration-sharing? I was on Instagram for a while but didn’t get that into it. Will have to try MLKSHK to see what it’s all about.

    • Ganda: I’d invite you if I could. I gave out both my invites. If I get another one, I’ll hook you up. (Personally, I think Kottke should give me 5 extra invites for this insight into his produce 😉 LOL

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