A few weeks ago back I realised I had around 2,500 Delicious bookmarks but no idea what the majority of them was. So I decided to do some bookmark house cleaning.
It has been an interesting journey into how I have consumed digital information over the years and giving me some hint to how I may behave in the future.
1997-1999 Offline to online
Originally I relied on links coming to me via printed material and real word of mouth. As my (handwritten) collection of links grew I started finding more and more links via the websites themselves and link rolls. Eventually the links led me to search engines.
1999-2005 Information hungry and hunting
Having started out as professional web designer in 1998 there was so much to learn. Forums (Dreamless, Were Here, Flash Kit,Renascent Fused) and designer portals (K10K, Surfstation,Pixel Suregeon) became my main source of digital information and I visited them religiously on a daily basis.
As we moved to London in the same period these communities also played a part in getting me out to gatherings (NMUF, BD4D) as they were still at a size where you could get together in groups with a chance to run into somebody you knew.
2005-2008 the offline gap years and being lazy
As the important collectives disappeared, they were replaced by blogs (Ffffound, I Love Typography, Design You Can Trust, BoingBoing) that merged the forum conversation with the news from the portals.
I created a Delicious link group I called “_daily” listing the useful blogs. They provided me all the industry news why should I go information hunting myself anymore?
Blogs were my main source of news but I never really became active in commenting. LinkedIn for me replaced the professional forum conversations but not the random but fun banter and it was also lacking the offilne, real life connection.
Anything I did with a professional context happened online and within confined boundaries.
2008-present: Social media awakens the information hunting instinct
Social media came as a flod across all channels and felt like something new, it felt like back when I first jumped into digital; lots of new, exciting and unpredictable stuff to learn.
LinkedIn groups dedicated to social media emerged linking to new exciting corners of the Internet. The more conversational nature of these groups as well as social media also triggered a new generation of offline events such as Digital Lounge and Social Media Monday.
The inspiration of the groups and events have spurred me to once more go on the information hunt path eager to learn and I originally tried to add what I find to my _daily links but some how things where moving to fast to be bookmarked.
You may have noticed I have not named any specific sites. I no longer have any fixed sites I visit, as a limited group of sites no longer continuously deliver the full picture.
What is relevant is the content and who delivers it to me. Hence Twitter has become my preferred weapon of choice.
Twitter has not replaced my information hunting instinct, it doesn’t work if you do not actively look and participate. It has worked as tool in parallel with search engines and offline events.
It has not replaced blogs either as such but it is bringing me information from the blogs. Twitter tells me when blogs update and what they have to say helping me make split second decisions on what subject to dive deeper into.
The future: Where to next?
Twitter has its limits and while search engines have been clever at incorporating the real time results of Twitter, it all adds up to the information overload.
For me it all comes full circle back to how people wrote down links on a piece of paper originally. With the hundreds (soon thousands) of links flying around me everyday I suspect I will increasingly filter the links on:
- Who recommends it? Do I know the person, do I know what quality/integrity they stand for?
- Is it shared or directly from the author? If it is directly from the author, it is new and I have direct feed from the author hence she most have said something valuable before.
- Is it valuable to me? What is the subject? Is it current information?
- Is it sharable? Is it content I am actively going to participate in? Will it bring value to my connections? Wil it make me look good?
Companies will try and monetize how we filter content and will try to “help” us but the danger is it will dilute the value and credibility of the content. The scary bit is I don’t think we can stop this evolution.
So I think we will see a new boom of smaller, closed online communities where only trusted friends of friends will appear. True quality over quantity.
It is also evident is in massive multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft where players can set up their own mini forums with a selected members of their choice. These groups may have a defined in-game goal or be social groups, but common to all of them is that the members are chosen based on personal connections and recommendations.
Closed communities will increasingly attract marketing minds and the more “secret” and exclusive they are, the more their value will be especially if these groups starts to enforce their collective power for example politically or as a united group of consumers.
Future scenario: The Food Armada
A group of foodies share on Facebook
The Food Armada starts out in 2008 as a bunch of friends sharing good restaurants on Facebook to plan where to go and eat together. The group is fairly small and stays this way as it never actively promotes itself. In 2009 a chef (a friend of a friend) joins and naturally this raises everybody’s awareness of food and their ability to critique food.
In 2010 the group sports several restaurant professionals as well as one suspected professional food critique (she never confirms this, but it is evident from the way she writes). The group still get together offline to meet at restaurants especially when members from other countries come to visit.
Unwanted member requests triggers move
2010 unfortunately sees a huge increase in member requests; most are either restaurants or represent sites with a commercial interest.
In January 2011 the members decides to create a password-protected forum and migrate from Facebook to their own site overnight.
This move does not go unnoticed and trigger a few grumpy online responses and even makes it to page 7 in the free newspaper “The Metro” in London.
But the voices quickly die down and The Food Armada is left alone.
Friends of the Armada are left out
However, completely forgotten in all of this is the real friends of Food Armada members, those people who had been benefitting from the recommendations the Armada had been posting on their personal Facebook pages and who in turn used to invite their friends to restaurants based on the Armada’s recommendations.
In fact, as The Food Armada migrates they are hit by a wave of personal moans via private channels about how people miss their posts. Being their real friends this is both flattering as well as heart breaking, so later 2011 The Food Armada creates a publicly facing irregular online publication summarising the groups findings for the benefits of their friends.
The friends of the Armada can once again share the genuine recommendations (or warnings) as they used to do, often by taking their friends out to recommended restaurants.
The reviews of the Armada gain momentum
Word of the Armada’s publication spreads and visitors to the publication grow immensely over a very short period of time, but the group itself stays tight and few in numbers.
By 2012 almost none of the the group’s huge following know who is actually part of The Food Armada (or how to become a member) but it does not matter. What mattered is that the content is a pure, trusted and unbiased source of restaurant critics genuinely unapproachable by corporate interests.
Armada member thrown out
In 2014 a news story breaks: The famous Michelin star chef Peter Rossi is quietly thrown out of The Food Armada, but because his celebrity status journalists notice and start digging.
A friend of Peter’s was accepted as a member of the Armada in 2012 based on Peter’s recommendation. As it turns out the member has manipulated reviews of several restaurants in return for a substantial amount of money… enough to make this his main income.
The Food Armada suffers a massive hit to its credibility and it affects the internal politics of the group and eventually The Food Armada dissolves.
Our information hunting no matter vehicle will always be based on what we believe to be genuine information and that is currently my key concern with information I share:
Do I know the purpose behind what I am sharing? Am I being manipulated?