Back when I worked for a newspaper (gee, that sounds so quaint, doesn’t it?), my colleagues and I would talk about how cool it would be if readers could fully customize their experience on our website.
The home page they’d see when they came to the site would depend on the topics they followed, the interests they outlined.
Someone who would have turned to the sports section first in the dead tree edition would have that news front and center when they came to the website. Those who cared about business news but really didn’t care how the Yankees were doing (sacrilegious!) could customize their daily experience with that in mind.
It appears that level of site customization has finally arrived.
Mashable launched Mashable Follow in closed beta last week, and that’s exactly what it offers the reader.
And this, my friends, is the next step in the personalization of the web.
Setting up your initial profile is pretty easy – you sign in with Facebook Connect or Twitter’s Oauth. But that’s where the reliance on external sites ends.
You choose the topics you want to follow on Mashable – what stories you want to see come up in your “My Stories” feed.
Topics range from the all-encompassing “Social Media” to the extremely specific “Skype.”
You can follow people and see what they’re sharing and commenting on.
You can even comment on the activity of the folks you follow.
And you even earn badges for your activity – extremely Web-friendly badges at that.
It’s something like Facebook-meets-Foursquare-meets-RSS feed-meets social voting.
Instead of a row of share buttons for a bunch of different social sites, there’s one “Mashable share” button now. One button allows you to share to Facebook, Twitter, Digg and Google Buzz. If you’ve linked those accounts to your profile, it’s just a matter of a couple of clicks and you can propagate an article across all four at once.
Hover over the M Share button, and you can see how much social activity other users have given that individual post.
It’s the natural evolution of where the web is going. It was only a matter of time before people expected the Facebook experience everywhere they went.
The explosive growth of Foursquare also has caused more and more people to expect a game layer of sorts in their daily life on the web. Badge collecting has become a competitive sport, almost.
I’ll admit, when I saw there was a badge for following 25 people and I was at 20, I immediately set out to find five more people I wanted to follow. And when I saw there was a badge for following 15 topics? Well, I made sure I added a couple extra topics.
Not that the badges matter in the grand scheme of life, of course. But they’re fun. And when you’re thisclose to getting a new badge, well, that competitive edge creeps in.
Now, I’m not suggesting, by any means, that the Mashable Follow-type experience will replace Facebook as a central hub of web activity. We tend to have diverse groups of friends who have different interests and focuses.
And Facebook’s primary role is to be the online break room of sorts – a place where you can sit down, see what’s going on and take a load off, much as Twitter is a virtual water cooler.
But in creating the ability to customize your experience on a website, you give people far more reason to spend time there.
If I go to Mashable now, I can choose to check out the latest news or I can check out my story feed and only see articles in the topics that interest me.
Imagine if you were able to do that on, say, CNN.
Enabling people to fully customize their experience on your site is powerful.
And it’s the future.