When I started this blog, this is how I began the page on About This Blog:
I believe that it is only a matter of time before enterprise software consists of only four types of application: publishing, search, fulfilment and conversation. I believe that weaknesses and corruptions in our own thinking about digital rights and intellectual property rights will have the effect of slowing down or sometimes even blocking this from happening.
Those were my “Four Pillars”. If you want read what I said about syndication early on, you can find the post here.
Since then, I’ve continued with my almost morbid fascination with observing people at work, trying to understand what work actually means in the post-industrial sense. More and more, that fascination has focused on syndication.
So what is syndication? Put simply, I think of it as the “subscribe” half of a “publish/subscribe” model. People publish things. People subscribe to things. And most importantly, the people who subscribe choose what they want to subscribe to. They choose.
Recently, when I wrote about status messages and alerts, a number of you made some very useful comments, and what they’ve done is help me crystallise some of my own thinking. [So thank you everyone who reads this blog, thank you particularly for those of you who volunteer your time in making comments so that I may learn, that others may learn.]
And this is where I’ve got to:
There’s a continuing explosion in the number of ways we create information and in the number of ways we consume information. There’re a lot of people continuing to complain about information overload, and as a result there’s some resistance to the new forms of creating and consuming information. People want filters.
Historical filters, given the constraints of the communications technologies used, were about aggregations and summaries; the aggregator or summariser played a key role in the communications process.
But there was a problem. Aggregators and summarisers, well-meaning or not, introduced their own bias, and the authenticity of the original communications was undermined.
Today we’re in a different world, with different communications paradigms, models and tools. We’re not that far away from ubiquitous, digital, persistent, archivable, searchable, communication; the costs of transmission, reproduction, storage and retrieval have all dropped alarmingly; the devices at the edge continue to improve at a similar rate.
So now we can each do the filtering.
Which made me think, how? What should the tools look like? And that took me down a whole new path. I decided to go into what makes any of us subscribe to anything at all. And the best model I could find was the Four Drivers model, developed by Nitin Nohria and Paul Lawrence (something I appear to have referred to at least seven times in this blog!).
Nohria and Lawrence suggest that there are four primary drivers to anything we do: the drive to acquire, the drive to bond, the drive to learn and the drive to defend. Further, they suggest that these drivers act in parallel and not in sequence or hierarchy; they also suggest that the power or intensity of the drivers varies continuously. I like that model. A lot.
So where does that take me? My motivation to subscribe to things published is based on my drive to learn, bond, acquire or defend. So far so good. What happens if I use that model to classify the things I subscribe to?
“Drive-to-defend” subscriptions: These are alerts I subscribe to because they tell me about something dangerous, something that threatens me or my loved ones or people/things I am responsible for. Fire alarms. Calls for help and SOSes. Urgent texts from my children. Major systems outages. That sort of thing.
“Drive-to-bond” subscriptions: These are alerts I subscribe to because they tell me something about people that I want to get to know better, people I want to get closer to. Many tweets fall into this category, as people share what they are doing. I get an idea of their interests, their beliefs, their values, and I can identify the things we have in common as well as the things that we don’t share. Relationships are often defined not by the common things but by the things unshared. And they’re enriched by both. It’s not just tweets, but many elements of the facebook mini feed fall into this category, as people join and leave groups, become friends with others, promote and join causes.
“Drive-to-learn” subscriptions: These are alerts I subscribe to because they open up new avenues for me to explore, new ways of thinking, new things to think about. Again, many of the elements of the facebook mini feed fall into this category, as people share posts, follow links, become fans, join groups.
“Drive-to-acquire” subscriptions: This is the one I’m spending most time on right now, trying to understand more about how recommendations work. What happens when someone says they’re reading something, they’re listening to something, they’re eating something, they’re watching something. They’re doing something. What happens when that’s all they say. What happens when they share more than just the event, when they share their views on this thing they’re doing. They like the book, they hate the restaurant, they’re intrigued by the film. That sort of thing.
So that’s where I’m at. The point I’m making is that this information cannot be aggregated. When Sean recommends a book to me I am interested because it is Sean who is doing the recommending; I subscribe to Paul’s tweets because it is Paul. I subscribe to Jeremy’s blog because it is Jeremy.
Not because I want to get averaged-out filtered sanitised summarised made-into-bite-sized-chunks of pap.
I’ve had pap for years. Now I want the real thing.
And I can have it. Today.
That’s what syndication is about, the power of being able to subscribe to the things I want to subscribe to. Very granularly. Out of choice and not force. With no one else filtering or summarising anything at all.
Views? Comments. More to come after I hear from you.