The new filters

Clay Shirky, in his usual provocative way, talks about the problem of filtering — as it has always existed — in the face of information overload.

This is related to things I have been thinking about. In the olden days, publishers and booksellers were the big filters. There was also a role for reviews in the mainstream media and some social networking. This is how you chose what books to read. What is interesting is that the vast majority of the filters were from interested parties — people who wanted to sell you books. We passively just let this filtering process take place with the idea that reputational mechanisms and learned behaviour would keep the filters honest.

Today this whole set has changed. There is a vastly more diverse set of people who provide information that assist you in choosing books (among other things). The publisher and bookseller have been reduced in their importance. Bloggers, reviewers etc (to be sure they were always there in some form) have become more important — especially when facilitated by Google searches. The problem is that there hasn’t been enough history for most of these sources to have built up a trust relationship for quality. There is pollution both of quality and also likely hidden conflicts of interest. For instance, I can claim my independence but I have my own biases and views and these influence what I review and how I review it. How that is of relevance to you is something you have to learn and if you have got here on the basis of a Google search, then what do you do?

iPhone apps are instructive here. For the most part, it is a new market — people were not buying software in this quantity before. But where are the publishers? We may know about EA games but the rest are new. The best source is what Apple is providing at its storefront. This is the publisher and the filter although they are not disinterested and we have little guidance as to what determines what gets there. The other filter is provided by Apple but is different — it is revealed preference in the market — the top downloads lists. But that has other issues. Finally, there are some blogs and mainstream media that provide pointers. But which ones there are ones that you can trust? It is really hard to tell. I used to monitor all app releases but have given up and now use a few sites that review a few things for news. Am I missing stuff? Undoubtedly. But the equilibrium filter is not there yet.

The filtering issue was at the heart of the Wikipedia/Britannica debate. Britannica could not fathom that they lost the filter prominence so quickly given that they had the reputation and, in many respects, still do. But the filter is not just about that but about ease of access and here Wikipedia wins hands down.

Anyhow, I can recommend this Clay Shirky video; if only for the way in which this is all working on Facebook.

One thought on “The new filters”

  1. It’s more than just ease of access for Wikipedia – more importantly perhaps is breadth (how much information do you suppose Britanica has on the Narita Express or F-111?) – and of course, timeliness.  There’s a tradeoff between timeliness and accuracy, but people seem to have voted with their feet that they want the tradeoff to be tilted more in the timeliness direction.


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