Innovations in Attention: The Need for Filters and Feedback

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Howard Greenstein has a nice article on Mashable which notes why feedback and filters are necessary in social media.

We’ve all experienced that person who’s talking on his cell phone in public, in a voice that’s way too loud — on the train, in the restraurant, or walking down the street, screaming into the mobile, oblivious to the effect he’s having on the crowd nearby. We rarely experience this with a land line phone. That’s because when we talk on a land line phone, “There’s a small percentage of our voice that’s fed back to us. It’s called ‘sidetone’,” according to former Bell Labs Scientist Dr. Steve Crandall. About 18 decibles of sound (the loudness of a whisper) comes back to us to give us an indication that our voice is being heard on the other side fo the connection. When we have that feedback, we are less apt to make a spectacle of ourselves.

It seems to me his point is much more general than simply social media. Ever since we went from an broadcast/publish information model of the pre-internet era to the networked world of the internet, we need good filters and feedback loops. Because the is almost infinitely connected where everyone can talk with everyone all the time.  In such a world, the role of filters and feedback is essential or we get overwhelmed with information.

The best filters to date are a combination of filter and feedback. Google’s filter is based on page ranks which is a type of feedback. Amazon’s product rating systems can filter the products for you based on rating (a user feedback) or bestselling (an implicit version of user feedback). In any setting where the syntax of the potential feedback is robust, it is possible to create a filter easily. Page ranks, ratings, and frequency of access are big opportunities.

Filters are enormously powerful in at least three ways:

  1. they can help you manage your life more efficiently;
  2. they can help your company manage its products and services better;
  3. studying the nature of the filters you can help you get your name, ideas or products out to the market.

In terms of managing you life more efficiently, there are useful filters for email. My favorite is Xobni, which I’ve written about before. By helping you filter your email by topic and individual and linking all your contacts to external data sources like LinkedIn, Xobni makes you much more “on top” of your torrent of email. It is the thing I miss the most about moving over to the Mac from a PC.

In terms of helping your company manage its brand better, check out what Gatorade is doing to track its brand on social media. By setting up a 24×7 command center which monitors and filters the feedback from the interent about the firm’s products they have a much better handle on what is going on around their brand are simultaneously gaining vauabel skill on how to filter vast data streams.

Turning to the third topic the entire industry of search optimization marketing is based on gaming the filters so that people will find you.

The great tragedy is that the quality of the feedback and filter systems are limited. The vendors are focused on selling new features in the applications. But I think people would flock to a superior filter — because its what we need as an evolution of moving from a mechanistic to an organic, interconnected information environment.

Image source:  Wessex Archaeology

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