Frictionless Sharing, the Filter Bubble, and Differentiation


In a lovely exchange of blogging recently, my work blog post on process and product in sharing learning materials prompted Brian Kelly to research the term frictionless sharing which led to levels of friction by Martin Weller and now frictionless sharing is good for you or at least for me Erik Duval. The comments on Erik's post is really what triggered this blog post.

I'm thinking about technology, specifically the web, and the importance of choice. This post is a bit of a mash of concepts around frictionless sharing, the filter bubble, and the privilege of choice.

I have mixed feelings on all of this.


(image embedded attribution via )

Firstly, the blurring of personal and professional activity online is a problem to me. Do I want my work contacts to know I've been researching nappy rash and reading my horoscopes? (Clearly, they are
hypothetical examples. ahem). But the convenience of doing things through my fb/twitter/google identities is hard to resist, especially now I purchase apps and content online through google apps and amazon.

To my work contacts all this activity is just noise, as Alan says in the comments on Erik's post. And really not helpful to them. The only people it helps are people building profiles of what a person like me does. I don't mind them knowing what a person like me does, and I don't mind them marketing at me through emails and ads.

I resent the marketing through search though, as Tony Hirst has been flagging up on his blog. I don't want to see familiar faces in my search results, actually. I trust the people who have done the sharing but I want to search for myself. Even for choosing my holiday this year I have got very frustrating with the filter bubble narrowing my view onto the world. And now everywhere I go online I see holiday cottages and scottish castles being reflected back at me. Its claustrophobic.

I don't even know the effect that has on my work browsing/searching habits. Am I being trapped into a filter bubble? I have a theory that we each of us likes to see ourselves as living in a long tail. A meaningful experience to me is a personal, specialised, unique one.

I want my experience online to be personal, not personalised.

And yet … when it comes to the realworld economics of the web, I'm torn.

Obviously, free needs paying for. all of these commercial content providers and platforms and tools can't live on fresh air, people need paying. Even open source software developers need to eat.

So how to make it pay? As John Naughton says "Attention is now the really scarce resource in our information economy" (Observer Sunday 2012/01/15) My colleague David Kernohan suggests this might be a user data bubble. I think what I think is that in this post modern economy, value need never be realised into actual cash for it to be real – all it needs to be realised into is confidence, enough confidence for investors to invest. Business models on the web seem to often be about grow the user base, promise wonders, sell it for a fortune, let someone else work out how to make money from it. The question, as David says, is how long this will enable money to change hands.

In the meantime the reality is that us little people are being mined for information. The issue is whether that matters. I'm still not sure what I think.

In order to create this rich social browse to feed the marketers data, will services like google and facebookn maintain a controlled window onto the world? Will the majority of web users experience the web like the Chinese do, except controlled not by the state but by Facebook? It looks that way.

Can you pay your way to a premium web? I can afford to pay small subscriptions to experience the wild web, to go on safari into the outer reaches. Will that become the priviledge of the technially skilled or financially able minority?

If I could choose between everyone getting a free open web and a second class corporatised web, I'd obviously choose the former.

But I won't get to choose for everyone else, just for me. And I have a sneaking suspicion … is all this just the technosavvy middle classes just upping the ante?
… Oh, you have facebook on your smartphone? How sweet. We have deleted our accounts.
… Oh, you have foursquare to share your wherabouts with your friends? How niave. You know they will sell on your data and fill your inbox with junkmail.
It's like we always have to keep a distance from the proles. Whats so different from:
… Oh, you have an internet connection now? We have broadband.
… Oh, you have a laptop? We have a tablet.
Strangely It always feels a bit like food snobbery to me.
… Oh. you have strawberries from tesco in january? we only eat food in season.
… Oh, you have steak? we only eat organic.

Isn't it a good enough thing that people can connect online, keep in touch with their family and friends without having to pay money to do it, look up all sorts of information and do all sorts of things. Isn't it good that they are valued enough by content providers to get free services online? After all, we've been dealing with being heavily marketed at for nearly a century and a half now. You could say our marketing literacy skills are more developed than our digital literacy skills.

I am the twittering classes. I am the 1%. What are my first principles here? Purity or equality? Opportunity or quality? Me saying the facegoogletube web is not real enough seems a little smug. It's like a game of constant differentiation. Which sounds very much like playing into the hands of market segmentation to me. What really matters here?



7 thoughts on “Frictionless Sharing, the Filter Bubble, and Differentiation

  1. This is a great post, Amber, especially the eminently quotable “I want my experience online to be personal, not personalised.” Love it.
    We do this all of the time, don’t we? Jump on a bandwagon or bang our drum about something then, when the middle of the bell curve is approaching for adoption, distance ourselves from it.
    What I think is important is the critical element of digital literacies which is, I think, what you’re displaying fantastically here. If ‘getting people online’ means ‘subjecting them to a monopolised, stripped-down, filtered version of the web’ then I think (some) people may be better off without it.

  2. Loved to read your post. This confusion between “personal” and “personalized” is a nasty one, since many people treat the two notions as if they were more or less the same, which they are not. I would rather have a free open web over a corporatised one any day, even if it was not as full of bells and whistles. I totally agree that we should be able to choose what we share and with whom.

  3. I agree with Doug, great post Amber, particularly your critique of middle class responses to the popularity of online services.
    But what exactly do you mean when you say “I want my experience online to be personal, not personalised”? You don’t want Amazon-style suggestions? You don’t want music suggested to you based on what you may be listening to? You don’t want suggestions for peer-reviewed papers similar to the one you’re reading? I’ve found value in my experiences in all three of these scenarios.
    @José Mota “I would rather have a free open web over a corporatised one any day”. But what is a ‘free and open web’? The search engines which people use, dating back to the days of Alta Vista, have been owned by large organisations. Non-corporatised services such as Diaspora have failed to gain any significant appeal.
    “What really matters here?” Perhaps “To accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Or to put it in a less spiritual way, to have an evidence-based view of the online landscape and realistic and achievable approaches to making changes.

  4. Interesting that you make the distinction about being happy to be marketed at through personalisation, but not happy to receive search results that are biassed to the world you already inhabit.
    I know how to rediscover stuff my friends and colleagues have written, so whilst it may sometimes be convenient for that to turn up in my search results, I don’t want it to dominate them. When I’m searching Google, I put “ouseful” in the query when I want results from my blog to be added in, but when I want a wider search, I just use the topical search terms. (Similarly, I also use search limits to bound results to or sites, for example, when I want to focus on a content produced in the context of a particular class of publisher.) What I generally want is relevant variety, with a dash of novelty. It’s all very well Google serving me results that it knows: a) it has served me before, and that b) I have clicked on if I’m in a re-discovery mode; but if I’m looking for new results, the old ones have suddenly become irrelevant…. It’s maybe also worth noting that as I research my way through a topic, I tend to evolve the level of sophistication/precision of the search terms I use, so sometimes what I actually want is prompts from the search engine that actually help me develop my vocabulary in a topic area (loosely related: Jon Udell on search strategies )
    When it comes to paying for content, it’s maybe also remembering that the marketing thing may still be playing out even when (especially when) we are paying. Magazines and newspapers are heavily dependent on advertising revenue, and the fact that people pay for the magazine prequalifies them as someone with a particular interest or particular demographic, which can make that magazine/ad channel more valuable to specialist advertisers. The more I’m willing to pay for a magazine, the greater my interest in that subject, so the more valuable I am to someone who advertises products that cater to that audience. The fact that I can get access to a high density of specialist advertisers in a particular magazine (advertisers who have paid for those ads) may actually be part of the reason I buy that magazine. Relevant ads are indistinguishable from content etc etc.
    Where it becomes pernicious is when marketing follows you around the web (remarketing, eg ) and ads are served that may be (thought to be) relevant to you but that are irrelevant to the content on the page you are currently visiting, like junk mail.
    It’s also worth remembering that all sorts of companies that own channels that can be used to target difference audience groups sell reach to advertisers, from ISPs to mobile phone companies (eg ) It even seems as if some clever folk have found a way into doing IP address based hyperlocal targeting to postcode level?!?!
    Hmm, thinks… maybe I need to review to get a feel for commercial models around public datasets…

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