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.

Comments (24 Responses so far)

  1. restraint, have at it. Be random. Be irrelevant. Be Tolstoyan (or, Jarvisian) and say in 30 words what you could in three. And while you’re at it, be young, be foolish, but be happy. Worrying about “winning” at blogging is the real tragedy. Update:Scott Karp: “As for Seth, well, that was so 1.0.” Technorati Tags: blogging

  2. It’s All About the FILTER

  3. are already not littering. Others will turn a deaf ear to the plea, even while remorsefully tossing a candy wrapper out the window. So if we know the autonomous collective approach is doomed to failure, what is left? That is the question. Update:Scott Karp says the answer is more metadata and better filters.

  4. It’s all about the filter:

  5. restraint, have at it. Be random. Be irrelevant. Be Tolstoyan (or, Jarvisian) and say in 30 words what you could in three. And while you’re at it, be young, be foolish, but be happy. Worrying about “winning” at blogging is the real tragedy. Update:Scott Karp: “As for Seth, well, that was so 1.0.” Technorati Tags: blogging

  6. The fact that aggregators aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we should decrease the amount of content being created. The reality is that we should create more content because of this imperfection. This will help drive their development and maturation.Scott Karp has a nice post on this idea: “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.”

  7. Oh sure, Scott — I tell you you’re wrong and I’m an idiot, but Umair says you’re wrong and you change your mind just like that. :)

  8. The blessing for me is that I’m utterly insignificant, so I don’t really care about what anyone else says or thinks. It’s freedom brother!

    As for the matter at hand, the only practical solution I see is that I need to get me me a “content posse!”. Help me track down the content I’ve got to have and dismiss the rest.

    What good are all those people at myspace,, yahoo 360 etc…if they don’t help me find content? Help me find the things I need? If all they want is to be near me? To have their pic on my friends list! That feeds my ego for a wee bit, but in the end, I need more.

    I need a micro network that brings “value” to my life. I need a “trusted content posse” At least until I get a sexy computer voice like Capt. Kirk had. *smile*

  9. Did Godin call for a ‘blogging restraint’ ? He was just predicting the future.
    He’s just doing what he does – finding patterns.

  10. [...] etc thing is a bit of a false dichotomy, and it’s time we exploded it. — umair // 3:58 AM // 0 comments Comments: Post aComment [...]

  11. Couldn’t agree more! My Attention is Saturated!
    Check out this post

  12. Hey Mathew, I told him he was wrong too! There’s plenty of “I told you so” to go around.

  13. It’s *possible* that both you and Umar are misunderstanding Seth Godin. Though it’s hard to say, since I think Godin may be not have expressed his point well. That is, it’s not clear if Godin meant one thing but didn’t express it well, or if I’m misreading him.

    He *may* have meant, bluntly: There’s a lot of writers out there competing for a finite pool of attention. Overall, the winner for that attention, in general, won’t be *you*. Don’t even bother trying, it’s futile. The very best you can hope to do, in general, is to be prominent in a niche. That’s a better idea than wasting your time chasing after the same punditry that others (likely far better positioned that you) are chasing.

    The problem is, as a marking person, he is constrained from saying this so directly :-).

  14. Attention Economics 101…

    More misunderstandings on the attention economy today. Seth Godin is correct in identifying the problem is too much content, but Umair Haque and Scott Karp get it wrong because they miss that while distribution costs may be close to zero,…

  15. met, what’s the difference if Seth “called” for “restraint” or predicted that restrained would win:

    Blogs with restraint, selectivity, cogency and brevity (okay, that’s a long way of saying “making every word count”) will use attention more efficiently and ought to win.

    He may very well be describing qualities of “winning” content, but I still think he’s wrong about his problem analysis and why this type of content will win.

    SethF, you never fail to impress me with your ability to wind your way back to the same “futility” theme, regardless of the topic.

    Mathew, what can I tell you? We all wish we could be more like Umair.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. [...] [...]

  20. 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

  21. [...] RSS fatigue is already setting in. While multiple posts get you more traffic, they also make it easy to lose loyal readers."The clutter in personal media makes it difficult for anyone to find anything….even with tagging. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 rejects the notion that there is too much or that anyone should show restraint. The solution, for him, lies in powerful metadata:"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. [...]

  22. 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. …

  23. [...] Here is an example of the problem:  The Jesus Myth.  An admitted dilatante is mislead by the Jesus Seminar and posts his confusion to a blog which generates a torrent of accusations, assertions and acrimony.  This is good news?There is a real risk of Gresham’s Law — the counterfiet and worthless displacing the true and valuable.  The number of uninformed, poorly informed and intentionally misinforming will far exceed the number of well-informed.  We will be awash in noise.  A recent controversy on a false, prankster biography on Wikipedia  illustrates some of the issues.  Blogging sites, such as Digg, have fallen prey to pranks and propoganda.  They respond with a variety of spam detection methods — basically reader voting and "reputation" (both vulnerable to automated manipulation).  These are after-the-fact responses.  The bad post still exists and readers have wasted time or been mislead.Controversy often exists between well-informed people who possess different facts or points of view.  Take, for example, the recent controversy over the structure of water molecules.  Scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley are in strong (ahem) disagreement over whether water molecules are structured as pyramids or as rings.   (like you care about this topic). Nevertheless, nothing prevents every internet user from weighing in on this topic (except their own choice / lack of effort).Open authoring sites such as blogs and wikis have a noise problem.  Anyone can post incomplete, incorrect, misleading, defamitory or other distractions.  Readers cannot verify either the person — often hiding behind abbreviated signon ids — or the material.Anything controversial ends up invoking partial arguments carried over from other sites and instances of similar controversy.  These inevitably lead to a short-hand form of argumentation — labeling.  The participants in an instance of controversy soon begin referring to each other by perjorative labels and the level of insults increases.  Intellectually curious readers receive a vitriolic introduction to the topic and are left to piece together the elements of truth to the arguments of each side.Committed readers, who follow the controversy on some regular basis, are left reading repitions of superficial evidence offered by poorly informed, but fully enthused, commentators.  The experienced readers would be better served by pointing out any truly new developments in the evidence or logic of the controversy — advancing their understanding rather than refreshing material already encountered.Wikipedia had to create a special class of topic — controversial — and tags and procedures for dealing with topics that continuous spiral through superficial diatribes.   Some sort of noise filter is needed for all the open writing sites.  A key element of  the noise filter will be the reader’s own skepticism.  Readers will need to relearn how to validate sources, how to confirm the reliability of evidence.  For example, photo editing tools make it quite easy to change backgrounds, move and morph objects, add or remove indicators such as dates and times.  Readers will have to work hard to determine whether a photo has been retouched.  This is even harder for "first-person" reports which have been fabricated or exagerated for the author’s benefit. We do not need another noise amplifier.  We need a noise filter to show all the news fit to use. [ Back ] [...]

  24. [...] Why don’t I want to scour 50 different fashion blogs every morning? I’m going to pull some vintage Scott Karp for this: [...]

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