One of the more interesting sciences, in my mind, is how information relevance is both determined, surfaced and then evolved.
In Fred Wilson’s recent Cautionary Techmeme Tale he argues that making news popular takes away its social context and therefore becomes meaningless. He found Techmeme more useful when its sources more closely resembled his network of friends:
“For years, I’ve been using curators to filter my web experience…Techmeme has been the killer social media curator for my world of tech blogs. Lore has it that it was created using Scoble’s OPML file. It doesn’t matter to me if that’s true or not, I love that story. Because my OPML file was unusable until I found Techmeme and after that I stopped reading feeds and started reading curated feeds.”
This feeds into a larger argument about why pop culture and the art of being or becoming popular can be a bad thing. Not long ago I was inspired by the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” to dive into this idea myself:
“The real problem with popularity-driven models is that they reduce both the breadth and depth of the sources, topics and viewpoints being expressed across a community. Popularity-driven models water down the value in those hard-to-find nuggets. They normalize coverage and create new power structures that interesting things have to fight through.”
This is exactly why personalization, recommendations and social media technologies really matter. They can solve this problem of creating conformist media consumption practices by creating relevance through networks of people rather than through networks of commercial institutions.
I haven’t used My Yahoo! as much as I’d like, but there is a simple function in it that I love which could ultimately create amazing benefits for people who want a human filter for the Internet. It’s called “Top Picks”.
“The Top Picks module automatically highlights stories from your page, based on the articles you have recently read on My Yahoo! The more stories you click on, the more you will see this module reflect your interests.”
Actually, the technology beneath it is not so ‘simple’ but the application of it here makes so much sense that it feels like it’s simple when you watch it work. It works by using implicit behaviors. I don’t have to tell it what I like. It learns.
If it could also show me what my social network is tapped into right now, then the experience would feel nearly complete.
Media researchers will note here that people need pop culture to feel connected to a greater whole. I believe that’s true, too. Television is an amazingly powerful community builder.
But I would gladly trade a powerful singular social voice tied together by networks of distribution ownership for a less unified but still loosely connected network of pop culture tied together by my personal activities and my social connections.