March 13th, 2006

It’s All About the FILTER


I’ve been wrong to complain about too much media — just as Seth Godin is wrong to suggest that excessive blogging is cluttering the “blog commons.” Thanks, as always, to Umair for the beacon of light:

More to the point: should we see the new world of micromedia as a limited resource; a commons, like Hyde Park, or a fishery? Are we really having externalities on each other when we blog, podcast, and vlog?

I think Seth’s post is this kind of misuse of economics. The genius of micromedia is that it blows apart the notion of distribution of a scarce resource. The whole point is that attention is no longer a commons; now, it’s about individual expectations and preferences.

The rest of Umair’s post is a fascinating critique of how the American obsession with utility is fostering banality and stifling innovation. But I want to focus on why Seth is wrong to call for blogging restraint — and why it’s wrong to call for any restraints on content creation of any kind.

In Media 1.0, mass(ive) media companies controlled both the content creation and the means of distribution — there wasn’t much clutter, but there wasn’t much choice either. In Media 2.0, the means of content creation and distribution are available to anyone and everyone, which has resulted in a (wrongly lamented) explosion of content.

In Media 2.0, the new center of value creation is the FILTER (or “smart aggregators” and “reconstructors,” to use Umair’s terms). In a world of infinite content, it’s the filter that creates a coherent media experience.

The problem right now is not that there’s too much content, but that the filters are still too primitive and Old Media is still clinging to control of its content, reducing the “liquidity” of the network.

So the answer is definitely NOT to produce less content, but to completely liberate content, load it up with metadata, and let content consumers interact with it and draft off it in every way, shape, and form.

But that will only give us the raw material (albeit in its most valuable form). Then we need to have filters (or “reconstructors”) to put all the pieces together in useable packages or streams.

We’ve still got a long way to go.

As for Seth, well, that was so 1.0.

See Seth’s comment below

I don’t think that effective filtering in Media 2.0 has anything to do with the amount of space allocated to presenting the filtered results. It has to do with making each “microchunk” of content as high-yield as possible for each media consumer.

If each of a blogger’s posts contains must-have, highly-valuable information for a certain niche, that blogger will be successful with 1 post a day or 25. If there was a blogger who could figure out how to post the 25 most useful pieces of information for ME every day, I would read that blogger and no one else.

But a blog can’t “win” in Media 2.0 by being a “destination” for readers any more than an Old Media company can win by making its website the ultimate destination.

An update from Seth’s site:

some have rightly pointed out that filters and tagging mean that the commons benefits from as much noise as possible… that each blogger blogs all she wants, and the good stuff gets dugg or tagged and the rest disappears.

I have no real argument with that, except that it begs the question of who’s looking through the chaff for the wheat. If someone has a blog where every single riff is a good one, you can bet that the eager beaver taggers are going to be there, waiting for the good stuff. If, on the other hand, you have a one in a thousand hit rate, the odds of your good stuff being found are small indeed. I think what I’m suggesting (not proposing… I’m not asking you to post less!) is that if you want to have a larger voice, it may pay be to be your own filter.

(hmmm, wonder who those anonymous “some” are…)

Seth is right that the disconnect here is that we’re all having trouble imagining who or what is going to play the role of filter (or reconstructor) and how it will all work. But I think he’s conflating too different issues — blogs as content creation brands and blogs as filters. If you think of blogs as content creation brands, then I agree that a higher yield on quality content will lead to greater success for that blog’s content, wherever and however it’s consumed. But that’s an entirely separate notion from individual bloggers as filter.

I can’t claim to have any clarity on how the 2.0 filtering process should ideally work — but I think that’s where all the action is.

  • sbw

    Regarding filters, I wrote Newspapers in 2010 in 1990 -- winning a free trip to Las Vegas:

    ... Local newspapers would have died had it not been for the emergence of the copyrighted filter. A computer-programmed filter extracts selected text and graphics from the information stream based upon subject, author, keyword, source, destination, date, or other blend of characteristics. The automated filter is necessary because more information than can be easily assimilated by the reader is shoveled down the fiber-optic cables and the satellite sideband feeds attached to the home communications computer system. Prior to the filter, people would dip into the rushing torrents of information with limited means to winnow it down or extract it efficiently.

    People subscribe to a filter they trust. I may prefer the British magazine, the Economist's filter over the Time or Newsweek filter because of their point of view or because I trust their judgment. I subscribe to the Associated Press filter and the local newspaper filter. Changing keywords modifies the basic filter to reflect personal preferences.

    The newspaper still uses editors. As a human filter they provide a good defense against the possibility a brittle, automated filter could insulate a subscriber from too much. ...
  • that's why we called ourselves f!lter till we realized that myspace has a publication with the same name.

    i really think that the wisdom of crowds do not work everytime, the tyranny of the majority can be lethal

  • But a blog can’t “win” in Media 2.0 by being a “destination” for readers any more than an Old Media company can win by making its website the ultimate destination.

    Can you expalin how this matches with your recent post where you said that Blogs are destinations?

  • Now, now, Scott. Just like it's said there are only a handful of basic plots in literature, blogging-about-blogging has only a very few things which are said about it (e.g. 1) It's great for the winners 2) It's not so great for everyone else 3) WE NEED BETTER TOOLS! (see this post!), etc. - note this list is illustrative, not exhaustive).

    I think some repetition comes from the people saying plot-1 not taking into account the people saying plot-2, and the chorus of plot-3 responses.

    Umar saying "The whole point is that attention is no longer a commons;", (whatever in the world that means) is missing that attention is, to a good approximation, a finite resource, which is what I think Godin is using as part of his argument. Umar is going astray with one connotation of the word "commons", in part because I believe Godin isn't expressing his presumed point well. And I see this easily because I'm particularly concerned with the difficulties of the distribution of that limited resource, hence I think that's valid here.

  • I wasn't calling for restraint. I was indeed pointing out that if you, as a micro-publisher, want to build an audience of people who count on you, look to you, expect that you will act as a filter for them... if you want to be that source, then blogging all the time might not be the long-term way to get there.

    The front page of the Times, the front page of Digg, the front page of your blog... that's a filtered space. The difference is that the Times can't make there's "bigger" and you, the blogger, can. In the short run, that'll get more hits. My question was, is that the way to be the filter winner in the long run?

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