My thanks to those of you who commented, tweeted or wrote to me about my post on the customer perspective yesterday.
Some of the questions raised were such that I felt a follow-up post was of value, so here goes. I’ve tried to structure it as a small number of points that clarify and simplify what was stated yesterday, while still remaining readable as a stand-alone post.
1. Subscriber-driven: The real shift taking place is one of control, passing from me-the-publisher to me-the-subscriber. In future the smart money is on environments that empower me-the-subscriber, and on environments that help me-the-publisher offer a better service to me-the-subscriber. For example, a blog platform that allows me-the-publisher to offer me-the-subscriber the ability to subscribe to the blog feed by tag. So someone should be able to say “I only want JP’s posts on cricket and on cooking”. Or, as is far more likely, “I want all of JP’s posts except for the ones he does on cricket and on cooking.” The ability to get granular control of the feed will become more important. A note of caution: we shouldn’t waste our time trying to standardise tags, it’s the sort of thing we’ve all wasted our time doing before.
2. General different from specific: As a result of the shift, we will land up with two types of habitats that me-the-subscriber will frequent. One is a general habitat, a meta-habitat for aggregating everything. The second is a topic- or tag-specific habitat. Aggregation will take place in both habitats, but the type and nature of the aggregation will be different. Twitter and FriendFeed are general habitats. Last.fm and Flickr and blip and dopplr and even seesmic are specific habitats. The habitat of choice will determine the etiquette required. You do not fill a general habitat with an overload of specific information. You cannot write on cricket in the Times as if you are writing in The Cricketer, the depth and frequency have to suit the habitat. It’s called being courteous to your subscribers.
3. Social objects need graphic equalisers: Facebook learnt this lesson soon after the news feed was released, but it’s worth repeating. General habitats need sliders, need mixing desks, need graphic equalisers, in order to allow me-the-subscriber to manage the balance of what’s coming in. This is despite the fact that I choose whom and what to subscribe to. Me-the-subscriber needs the sliders, the graphic equalisers, because me-the-publisher is sometimes inconsiderate and makes too much noise of a particular type. Like telling me where he is every 10 minutes. I’m interested in where he is, but not that much. Like telling me when he turns the page while reading a book. Like telling me about each and every song he is listening to. What I want to know is where I can find out the detail if I want it. In the meantime, I only want him to give me a sample of what he’s doing, show some judgment.
4. Me-the-publisher needs tools in the specific habitats that allow this sampling to take place. So for example I need to be able to say, in a general habitat like Twitter: “Hey guys, I’m over at blip.fm DJing as http://blip.fm/jobsworth if anyone cares” And then people who are interested can do something about it. And as me-the-publisher I can choose to send over a tweet for every tenth song I play. And you, as me-the-subscriber, can choose to change that frequency up or down. And the publishing/subscribing platforms will have to deliver as needed.
5. Signals become more important: The general habitats become aggregators of aggregators, where as publishers we signal our availability to subscribers. Come join me I’m cooking at. Come join me I’m listening at. Come join me I’m watching at. The choice of participation is always the subscriber’s. [Image courtesy ecoustics forum].
6. Visualisation becomes even more important, as do the tools used for visualisation. [PS top image above attributed to manyeyes and IBM; bottom image attributed to www.wordle.net] As subscribers, we will have better and better tools to convert firehoses into capillaries. That is really the only way we can avoid the potential overload risk of aggregation.
7. Mobile devices rule. There will be a number of general habitats, based on subscriber preferences. Some (most?) will be designed natively for the mobile device. As with general habitats, specific habitats will not be monopolies. People will choose one over the other, but retain the freedom to move from one to the other. Any attempt at lock-in will either fail (by being subverted) or atrophy to death (because it won’t be adopted).
8. Unsubscribe: We will see a major rise in usage of “unsubscribe” facilities. Clay Shirky famously said that wikis worked because the cost of repair is kept as low as the cost of damage. The same is true of how we subscribe to, and unsubscribe from, people and feeds. The cost of unsubscribing can and will drop. It must drop. As will the cost of unfriending, unfollowing, unwhatever-ing.
None of these ideas is new. All I’ve tried to do is to provide some context and some narrative to my idle ramblings about what it means to move to a subscriber driven world. Comments as usual welcome.