The Era of You

Eli Pariser's "Filter Bubbles", and Community: Curation now, AI later?

My colleague @Neil_H_NYC tweets, "Don, any comments on this TED lecture?"

I hadn't seen Pariser's talk, but it's a great one; his point being that Facebook and Google are among sites that use algorithms based on your own search and interaction patterns to give you feeds/results that are more like what you want to see.  That's a good motive, but as he points out, it results in "bubbles," in which your worldview is limited.

Bubbles represent the current state of curation-by-machine--give me more like what I've gotten before.  But part of the community concept I've advocated  is the idea of human curation.  E-commerce analysts already recognize that recommendation from a trusted friend is among the most powerful online shopping influences; the idea of news or search from a trusted friend is not really a stretch. 

This recent blog post discussed this idea, and quotes a Mashable report in which an NYU professor says, "Curation comes up when search stops working." 

In the near future, I'll be talking more about using the idea of community to see where social business and social networking is headed.  The elevator pitch for that article is this: "technology is giving us the ability to make connected life like the very best parts of life in a village--where you know everyone, your rights and tastes are part of the fabric of everyday life, and every experience is personal and relationship-driven."

Computers are just not smart enough to replicate that--yet.  But why do you think Google is Very Heavily Involved in artificial intelligence?  One of the huge tech fortunes yet to be made will come from AI-based personal assistants--also the subject of an upcoming post.

In the meantime, filter bubbles reflect our own behavior: you can live in a gated online community as much as one created by a suburban developer, where the people you see and the ideas you're exposed to are all just like you, and agree with everything you believe in.  We can choose otherwise, as Yes told us: "don't surround yourself with yourself."

Originally posted on 5/16/2011



Why "Social" is the right concept...but it may be the wrong word

"Social" has become one of the most-used terms in technology discussions.  Social networking, social commerce, social enterprise, social soon sounds like Forrest Gump reciting his litany of ways to prepare shrimp.  If there's a phrase you can make by hanging "social" on it, or a marketing ploy you can ramp up with the same approach, chances are it's being done right this minute.

It's not just hype; there are important things going on.  But the underlying reality is not new:

Enabling communities of interest, not just of location, may be the single most important benefit of the internet.  The social explosion is all about community.

That was true in the days of e-mail lists and Usenet. It was true of BBSs using dialup modems.  Smart merchants like understood this early on. A bricks and mortar store is an in-person expression of community.  So is the long-tail aggregation of demand made possible by online merchants--it extends that core idea, but takes location out of the equation.

We rarely think about long tail effects in terms of noncommercial interactions, but that is precisely what is happening, as shown by the hundreds of millions of interconnected friendships online, and it's worth a LOT of money: in May, 2011, Mashable reported estimates of Facebook's value near $100 billion.  So what is different today?

  • The number of people who are connected often enough, reliably enough, has enabled  more communities, and larger ones like Facebook.  We're seeing the network effect in action.
  • The portability of communities has exploded thanks to smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices. The idea of community-of-interest was limited when you had to be in one particular place (at your desktop compter) to be a part of one. Location awareness via GPS magnifies this effect (see Foursquare.)
  • The community gestalt has shifted; a critical mass has experienced internet community for a long enough time that communities-not-of-shared-presence are the norm rather than the exception for many cases. Have you ever felt you knew an online friend better than some of the people you see every day?
As Ellen Degeneres says, "my point, and I do have one," is that the whole "social" world is not a revolution, but a logical--and predictable--outcome of bigger trends that have been in play for a long time.  And by saying that, I'm laying groundwork for a toolset I'm developing to help us examine timelines across a set of core technology concepts, think about how trigger points in one technology can suggest innovations in another, and give us insights to see the bigger picture about what's going on.

There are fortunes to be made, and influence to be gained, by those who successfully understand this reality, and see the opportunities.  We can use innovation and common sense to be those people and those companies, and take advantage.

Tomorrow, I'll publish an infographic that is the first iteration of this idea, and begin a discussion in which we think about tech inflections and likely outcomes.  I've come up with 6 core themes, and Community is one of them.  What would you list for the other 5?  That may be something for the community to decide.

originally posted 05/10/2011