Musings on filters: why they’re the next big thing

Musings on filters: why they’re the next big thing

panning_for_goldI know everyone wants to talk about the latest and greatest Twitter app, or what the Facebook killer will be, but I’ve been thinking a lot about filters lately and how much more critical they’ll become for managing our daily lives. The ability to filter information to our individual satisfaction is going to be what makes or breaks the onslaught of always-on social media.

One of the biggest complaints I get from clients and friends who join a new social network (besides the pain of setting up the profile) is the feeling of info overload. I’ve talked about how the paradigm of email has set us all up for disaster in this department, and I always come back to that Clay Shirky quote: “There is no such thing as information overload, there's only filter failure.”

In the past, we left the responsibility to others to filter our information for us in a number of ways, mostly because there wasn’t any other way to get the goods. Media organizations, through their hierarchies of gatekeepers, have determined for ages what the important stories are. Businesses have decided what demands needed to be met with the products they produced. Whenever we did get information via social means,? we could manage the incoming info because there wasn’t that much of it to handle — our networks were considerably more closed and less overlapping.

Now, with social media, we have the ability to connect with a previously unimaginable amount of stuff coming at us, often from multiple directions. And people are thus crying out for help in managing the flood. Top complaint of the day is email — if only people knew how to use filters and rules in their email programs better, heh. Facebook? gave us the ability to make lists of people and then filter the news feed based on those lists. Tweetdeck is one of the most popular Twitter apps primarly because it allows you to create groups of people to follow.

Still, there’s a mental hurdle for many of us to get over– just the mere fact that it’s now in our hands to filter everything that comes at us. We’re so used to waiting for things to be dished or pitched to us that we’re not quite sure how to make the decisions on what to filter out and what to keep in. Figuring out what works is going to be very individually based and experimental, and that’s often a painful process.

It makes me, as an info junkie and organizational nerd, exponentially more anxious to see how filters develop in the coming months and years. The semantic web is going to be particular intriguing here — when the machines learn our language, learn better how we think… are they going to be able to help us?