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Filters: Part 5: Designing for Serendipity

Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters, and then spent time on routing, then went on a tangent to look at bringing responsibility into publishing. Today I’d like to spend time developing ideas that can help us avoid tunnel vision, blinkers, groupthink, the madness of crowds, heresy, narrowmindedness, herd instinct and a slew of similar ills.

The background

It is normal and natural to spend time with people who have backgrounds similar to you; you get along better with people who share your interests, who have things in common with you. This is as true in the digital world as it is in the analogue world; it comes as no surprise that humans have tendencies to be tribal in outlook, to “flock” as “birds of a feather”, to form homogeneous groups.

In the past, when our ability to migrate quickly and affordably was somewhat constrained, we tended to live our lives within a short distance of where we were born, with our kith and kin and in communities that had been stable for a considerable while. When we did migrate we tended to ghettoise, we formed districts and neighbourhoods full of parvenus. It was hard to integrate easily into a homogeneous community, so the new entrants stayed together as well. Often they shared a common language, a common culture; in many cases they came from similar locations. So we had the Latin Quarters, the Chinatowns, the Koreatowns. We first formed relationships with people we had much in common with, then proceeded to integrate at glacial rates. Which was fine, so long as integration took place.

When it comes to the digital world, the cost of discovering people with similar backgrounds, interests, attitudes has fallen dramatically; the speed at which we can group thus has increased significantly. Our digital tribes form at breakneck speed, and run the risk of being too homogeneous and insular. Maybe it’s a variant of first-mover advantage, this tendency to form like-minded and closed groups, emphasis on the closed.

I don’t tend to meander into politics here at confusedofcalcutta, and don’t intend to start doing that now. What I will say is of late, as our ability to form digital tribes has improved in leaps and bounds, so too has our ability to polarise every debate. Which is not a  good thing in countries that have two-party systems in practice. Everything soon becomes about Blefuscu, about Big-Endians and Little-Endians. [I've written about this tendency before as I saw it evolve within the IT industry, spurred by the simplicity and speed of connecting to others]. I used to think that elections could be about Red or Blue, but government had to be about Red and Blue. That there was a distinction to be made between electioneering and governing. But nowadays it appears it’s all electioneering: the purpose of government has somehow been mutated into one of being re-elected and not much else.

[Enough politics! Ed.] When groups form with strong homogeneous characteristics, it’s easy to lose perspective. Our ability to look at multiple sides of an argument weakens, our ability to tolerate dissent erodes, our ability to take in ideas that challenge the status quo atrophies. The importance of diversity is not just in how we evolve and develop as flesh-and-blood humans, it holds as true in our digital lives.

When it comes to “business” there are a few more frills to consider. Firms have boundaries around them, walls build to keep the enemy out. Departments become silos as people with shared incentives optimise what they do to maximise their payoffs against those specific incentives. This tends to have the effect of making departments compete against each other within the firm, with appropriately negative consequences.

Innovative ideas tend to form when two or more well-bounded edges rub against each other; the frictions and latencies that get exposed through this contact become fertile ground for creative people to envision how to make their lives, and those of the people they care for, better.

It is important to ensure that the filters we set, as subscribers, are formed in such a way that the heretical consequences of extreme homogeneity are minimised.

I think it was Einstein who said that common sense is made up of the prejudices we collect by age eighteen. We all have anchors and frames that prevent us from looking beyond the promontories of our proboscides.

There’s also the issue of the filter-bubble, what Eli Pariser has been so eloquent on. It’s a natural consequence of supply-side filters. And it needs fixing.

All this leads me to the importance of serendipity and diversity in our streams. Allowing chance as well as differentiated viewpoints to emerge and surface, to teach us, to challenge our thinking, to inspire us.

Designing for Serendipity

It seems to me that you can do five things by design:

(a) Listen to people outside your cosy circle, starting with customers

When I was at Dresdner Kleinwort I had a fantastic team working for me, people who have gone on to do greater things because that was always going to be their destiny. It was a privilege to have been there. They were so good that I could spend time looking at unusual things, in efforts to try and improve our ability to create business value through teamwork and collaboration.

One of those unusual things was this: every now and then, I looked at the patterns thrown up by our email usage. How much of the mail we generated actually left the bank’s boundaries. Very little. How much of the mail sent by New York left New York (or for that matter any other location bar London”. Very little. London enjoyed “Head Office” status and therefore generated lots of mail for other locations, but in principle the pattern was the same. Most of the time, people sent mail to colleagues in the same location, to people they could have walked over to speak to. And very little of what they sent by mail went outside the firm. If you have the time, the inclination and the ability, take a look at what happens in your firm. It’s unlikely to be pretty.

Designing the network such that externals can participate is a good place to start. Making sure that you can recognise the presence of an external easily is very important, otherwise the environment becomes so error-prone that trust is weakened. Show the presence of externals using differentiated colours and fonts, as an example.

Build mechanisms that track how many of the people you follow are from the outside; from your partner and supply chain; from locations other than yours, from departments other than yours. If the only people you follow are people who look and feel and act like you, you’re not going to learn very much, your thinking isn’t going to be challenged, you’re not likely to spot the frictions in the handoffs.

(b) When listening to customers, bring in two dimensions beyond just traditional communications/conversation

Most companies get complaints from customers. There’s usually an abundance of complaints in comparison to unsolicited goodwill messages. So why not take advantage of this abundance? Make your complaints follow-able, embody them in the form of a person who publishes complaints into the stream. Make it even better, allow the complaints to be classified semantically. Follow the voice of the complainer, by theme or topic if possible. She’s unlikely to have the same biases as you do.

When you do this, try and retain the original words the customer used. Avoid the temptation to summarise-by-triage, throwing away useful and valuable information. Let me give you an example. Customer complains that her broadband is not working. Traditional scripted methods will go through a plethora of well-designed engineer-responses. And fail. Because the reason for her problem is she hasn’t paid her bill. You’re more likely to spot that if you see the words the customer used, rather than the “trusted” commentary that summarises what was said.

A second route is to use some way of collecting ideas from outside the firm and plugging that flow into the network. Companies like Starbucks and Dell have shown what is possible as a result of doing this.

(c) Always bring in some fresh thinking whenever possible

There are so many ways of doing this. Find out who’s joined the party recently (a new hire; someone from graduate intake; a new-name customer; a recently-formed partner). Start following them. In fact from a design perspective every time someone joins the network, they should be discoverable somewhere as newly-joined. Welcome them in by following them.

When someone follows you and you don’t know them, follow them back. I do this as often as possible, once I’ve verified that the person is a person and not a bot, and once I have checked that the person “speaks” rather than spams.

When you follow people, make sure you make a point of following people who are interested in the same subject but with a point of view that’s different from yours. If they’re interested in music and they’re all about country while you’re about folk, follow immediately; if they’re vegan-foodies while you think man and meat were destined as a pair, follow immediately. The point is to be in touch with people that have similar interests but not identical ones.

(d) Learn from the trends around you

Watch closely what’s trending in your network, amongst the people you know and trust. But keep an eye on what’s trending elsewhere. In a perfect world I would want to be able to say “Let me look at the stream as if I am in India; in Somalia; in Iceland”. Let me look at the stream as if I’m Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pastafarian, atheist. Let me see how 18 year-olds view this. Let me see what a new joiner sees on day 1. This idea, one of being able to encapsulate and transfer lenses, is something I will come back to in a post very soon.

When you see something trending that you don’t understand, do something about it. Find out what it means. Who’s involved. When it began. Stretch yourself.

(e) Go for a random walk

Stumble, just as in StumbleUpon. Go somewhere different; do something that’s not habitual, with people who aren’t habitues, in places that aren’t your natural habitat.

Again, more later. I’m still building on the arguments, delighted with the comments and mails and tweets and links I’ve been given. Please continue.




Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 4: Publishing responsibly

Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters, and then spent time on routing. Today I want to look at something a little broader. I want to look at the issue of publishing responsibly.


We live in a world where soon everyone and everything will be connected, one where everyone will soon be able to “publish”.

When I enumerated the seven principles of filtering, I took care to state that we should not design filters on the “publish” side, we should only design them to be used “subscribe” side. There are good reasons for this, mainly to do with avoiding “censorship by design”: we do not want to build structures that allow bad actors to dictate what everyone can see, read, hear. And if we design publish-side filters, that’s what will happen.

But there is still a case to be made for publisher-level filters, an exception to the rule. It’s a filter that most journalists are well aware of. It’s a filter that is quite different from any other filter I speak of, because it is not programmatic. It is code-based, yes, but it’s to do with the code we live by as human beings, rather than a set of instructions for a machine.

Publishing responsibly

Liberty is not licence. As the right to publish becomes universal, we have to perceive the right in the same way that we need to perceive any other universal right. The right comes with a duty, a set of duties. Duties that we owe to society in exchange for the right to publish. As I said earlier, this is something the world of journalism has needed to understand for centuries (even if it not always clear that they act according to that understanding. But that’s another matter).

When I started blogging back in 2002, I had to be very careful what I said and where, given my role and how that role was perceived. So the bank I worked for weren’t too keen on my blogging publicly; that didn’t happen till 2005. Since the audience was largely constrained to Dresdner Kleinwort folk, I wrote principally about work. Then, as things began to open up, I had to think about this whole area differently.

Initially I took the view that I would not share anything unless I could figure out whom it would help and how they could gain value from what I was saying. Between late 2005 and early 2007, I first went public-open with my blog, then started with Facebook, then joined Twitter as well.

As I learnt more about how these things worked, I began to refine my thinking about why I would share anything. And for some years now, this is where I’ve landed up:

Now I use a different test. Before sharing anything, I ask myself “Could this hurt someone?” And if the answer is yes, I hold my (digital) tongue.

How can we hurt others through what we share? Let me count the ways.

Not hurting others


Way 1: Make sure what you’re saying is accurate. Look for corroboration. Check it out. Where relevant, point to the source as well. Learn which sources to trust. Use your noggin, sanity-check it. It’s very easy to help inaccurate rumours circulate. There are also a lot of trolls about, looking to attract attention to themselves and to sensationalise as part of what they do, often with exaggeration and paucity with the truth. Think before you retweet them.

When I was at university, my namesake and erstwhile godfather, Jayaprakash Narayan, was known to have serious kidney problems; he spent a lot of time on dialysis. Which meant my colleagues used to have fun at my expense if I failed to turn up. Roll 7? Gone for dialysis, sir. And then one day it was reported that he’d died. The BBC World Service, no less. But he hadn’t. There was then a localised mini-rumour that I’d died, my personal Mark Twain moment. Why did this happen? It was because the BBC had said that JP had died. If it wasn’t the JP, then it must have been some other JP. And so the rumours began, albeit short-lived. With trust comes responsibility.

More recently, I had to learn this lesson again for myself. I saw reports that Michael Schumacher had been badly injured in a skiing accident, then read a story, from a reputable source, that his injuries, while serious, were not that serious. So I linked to that story. Soon afterwards it became clear that the reputable source was wrong, and I had to correct my earlier tweet.

Which brings me to another important point about accuracy. If for any reason you publish something that isn’t accurate, correct it as soon as you know that to be the case.


Way 2: Respect the audience and context. Think about who’s going to be reading what you publish. Okay, it’s get-on-my-high-horse time, please humour me. Take the term Not Safe For Work or NSFW. I’ve been bemused by this, sometimes even mildly needled. Is work the only place where the “not safe” label has meaning? Why isn’t there a not-safe-for-home? Or a not-safe-in-front-of-the-children? Once you go down that path, you will soon lead to a list of not-safes. Before you know it, someone will decide it’s a good idea and then (heaven forfend!) legislate for it. And we will land up with forced labelling of everything as not-safe-for-something-or-the-other. Warning. Contains Nuts. So before that happens, we need to start using some other signal. Something closer to “May shock or offend”, something simple that covers a whole litany of not-safes.

This is particularly important when it comes to use of images, especially those of the “graphic” variety. Today, more and more of the streams we live in now open up the image and display it as default. Not a good thing. As subscribers we should be able to turn that off. Which reminds me of another awful irritant. Web sites that burst into song without being asked. Puh-lease!

Fairy tales can be scary. Grandmothers turning into wolves. Parents abandoning you and sending you into forests in the dark. The reason that children don’t find such stories scary is because their own imagination stops them from dreaming up stuff that can really scare them. There’s a self-correcting mechanism there. That mechanism worked fine when the stories were oral. It continued to work fine when we moved to text and reading. Early illustrators stayed with the program and drew non-scary scary things. But nowadays we seem to forget all that. That’s a problem.

We should think about what we share and whether it has the possibility of being seen by someone who can’t handle it…. and then it falls upon us to prevent that happening. As individuals, not as society. As individuals using social conventions rather than through regulation. Here’s a simple example. A few days ago, I saw a video to do with spiders. It was fascinating, all the more so because I have no fear of spiders. But my wife would have nightmares if she saw the video. Which means I would do everything I can to ensure that she is not exposed to that video. That’s the sort of reason why films and games are age-graded and certified. So when we publish “in public”, in common space, we need to think about who else is able to see what we publish, and to show some responsibility.


Way 3: Don’t spoil things: There are very few things people now read, listen to or watch “live”. We have had the ability to Tivo so many parts of our lives for some time now. So people record things and replay them later. Catch-up services make this even simpler, by recording it for everyone and then making it available for a limited period for replay. We all know that this happens. So why do we bother to tweet or post stuff that has to do with TV programme contest results, sports results, film plots, book plots? Obviously there comes a time when it’s not that easy to avoid mentioning a “result”. But we have to learn how to do this safely. TV news stations have been using spoiler alerts for a while, where they audibly warn that a result is about to be flashed on a screen, given people the chance to look away if needed. IMDB provides spoiler alerts within film reviews, warning you not to click further unless you want to run the risk of having the plot exposed to you. We have to learn how to implement spoiler alerts as part of our sharing practice.

Sometimes the “spoiling” is subtler and your responsibilities are far more serious. You could be playing with other people’s lives. Now that everyone has a smart always-on alway-connected mobile device 24×7, every public event can be live-tweeted. Say you’re watching a hostage crisis play out. Be careful what you say because you could inadvertently tip off the hostage-takers and accelerate extreme and unwanted reactions. This is serious stuff. A couple of times as I watched what was being said, particularly on Twitter, I wished I could yell to the tweeter to cool it.


Those, then, are the three main ways we have to show responsibility in what and how we share. Of course we have to obey the law as well…. except when the sole purpose of sharing is to protest against the law…. in which case it is reasonable to break the law, knowingly, and to face the consequences. That’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about avoiding being racist or sexist or ageist, stuff like that. We should not be in the business of fomenting hatred by “sharing”. But that’s why we have laws. Sometimes those laws are asses, and deserve challenge. These are exceptions. The rest of the time, what we share should respect the laws of the land in which we do the sharing.


Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 3: Thinking about routing

Note: This is the third in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters. Today I want to spend time on routing.

When I talk about routing insofar as filters are concerned, I’m talking about three things. One, the time when the filtered message is delivered to the subscriber. Two, the place that it is delivered. And three, the device to which it is delivered. Nothing less, nothing more. There are more things to consider but I want to keep it simple for now.

Some years ago I was on vacation in Austin, Texas. We used to love going there every summer, when everyone else appeared to leave Austin. We tended to stay at the Barton Creek Resort there, unkind people would call it Connally’s Folly.

I was woken up in the middle of the night, around 130am, by the sound of a car alarm going off. Tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. The alarm wouldn’t stop. Then I noticed my wife had been awakened as well. So I muttered to her that I was going to ring the hotel reception and give them a piece of my mind and ask them to do something about this pesky alarm. She took all this in quietly. I should have known something was up. Then, just as I picked up the phone to call reception, she spoke.

JP, I think the alarm is coming from you.

That stopped me in my tracks. As usual, she was right. It was my pacemaker. It sounded like I had swallowed a tiny ambulance which was then complaining, sirens blazing, about the way it was being treated.

I tried to remember what I’d been told. Three types of alarms. One that let me know my battery was running low, and that I had to check in within the next month or so. A second that said it was a problem with my leads, could be a disconnection, could be fluid buildup. And a third which said drop everything and see a doctor immediately. Which one was it? Which sound was which? What was I meant to do?

It sounded like type 2, lead or fluid problems, but the timing didn’t make sense. I had been assured that type 1 and type 2 alarms went off sedately around 830am, so that I knew not to panic. Why, if it was type 2, was it going off at 130am?

And then I thought about it. The device was probably somehow hard wired to think it was in London, and that it was December. Made sense, I’d had it implanted in December in London. But I wasn’t in London. And it wasn’t December. I was in Austin, in late July. And 130am in Austin in July was ….. 830am in London in December.

Problem solved. I slept, and slept well. And woke up at an earthly hour, rested and refreshed, spoke to the cardiologist back in London and all was well.

Context matters. We live in an age where we expect alerts to be delivered to us sensitive to the time and place of delivery, all the more because the cost of knowing where we are and what time it is there is trivial.

When we convert firehoses into value, the filter process needs to bear this in mind. Discover location and time where possible, test for delivery conditions in consequence.

There are other important considerations, more social than anything else. In the early days of smart devices, we used to have this strange phenomenon jocularly referred to as Blackberry Prayer. This was where you were seated, in company, and then proceeded to clasp your hands and stare at your crotch for a few minutes, in the benighted belief that no one else would notice what you were doing.

As we move into wearable computing, the social side of what we do will start mattering more. You know how it is when you’re chatting with someone and you realise that he/she gets distracted every time someone enters the room? There are people who just have to “work the room”, and many of them don’t realise how discourteous it is, and what signal they’re giving you. Some of them don’t care about the signal they’re giving, but that’s another matter.

Soon, with wearables, particularly with glass-style devices, we run the risk of regular inadvertent dissing, as you watch the person you’re in conversation with “wipe the windscreen” of their eye-borne device.

In social company, it’s one thing to glance surreptitiously at your watch, or to take a quick gander at your phone. It’s something else altogether to pull out your tablet and start reading it in public. Whatever you do, your engagement with the message has to be quick, which means it has to be short. If it cuts across conversation, it had better be urgent as well as important. Say if your partner or child was in hospital… Then people would understand.

Context matters.

As we continue to separate signal from the stream, we’re going to have to learn a lot about conditional routing. What IF THIS THEN THAT or IFTTT seeks to solve. Years ago, when I was at BT and we were talking about the connected home, the example I would use to explain things ran as follows:

If the doorbell rings and you know that the only person at home is your aged aunt who happens to be hard of hearing, then please make the light that’s near the TV blink a few times because that’s the only way she’ll know that someone is ringing the doorbell.

The doorbell is a node on the network. The light near the TV is a node on the network. So is the hard-of-hearing aged aunt.

Firehoses exist because everything can publish. Filters exist so everyone can subscribe.

As we learn more about conditional routing, we will see that the principles behind stuff like IFTTT will pervade our consciousness in ways we haven’t considered. Children will learn to write the code needed to make conditional routing happen, just like they learnt to program VCRs and work their smart devices. These won’t be specialist things.

And as this happens the routing mechanisms will learn to know more not just about person and time and place but device as well. Form factors, graphic capabilities, likely locations of use, all these will matter and form part of what we need from filters.

Why do we filter? Because we want to get the right information to the right person at the right time in the right location and to the right device.

Who chooses all these “right” things? The subscriber. How can these choices be made possible? By designing filters than subscribers can use to make these choices, using all the contextual information possible.

It’s past one am, it’s been a long day, so I’ll sign off for now. If you want to see more of this, then do let me know that you’re finding this series useful.

Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 2: Thinking about the network as filter

Note: This is a continuation of my earlier post Filtering: Seven Principles. Over the next few weeks I hope to expand on each of the principles, adjusting and refining as I learn from your comments, observations and guidance.

Learning from email

There was a time when I liked email. A time when it was quick and informal, when typing in lowercase was fine, abbreviations were in common use, messages tended to be short, externally-initiated spam was very rare and internally-initiated “corporate” spam was but a glimmer in centralist eyes. That was a long time ago.

Over time email became more and more formal; as happens in so many cases, there was a tendency to force-fit the future into the construct of the past, a variant of paving cowpaths. Soon there were formal beginnings and endings, names and addresses and dates; layouts started imitating snail-mail. The carbon-copy of the past, a useful way of keeping a copy of what was sent, became the cc ass-c0ver of the present; strangely, even though most mail systems had a Save Sent Mail function, the cc persisted: probably because of the sheer gravity of the asses being covered. I trust you so much that I’ll keep copying your boss in when I talk to you. Worse was to come. The blind copy “bc” button, a means to solve propagating distribution list contents, was subverted into something far more insidious: I trust you so much that I’ll copy your boss in to our conversation without telling you.

As mail became an enterprise utility, more and more of its collaborative function was corrupted, as signalled above. It could not be a trusted medium with functions like cc and bc in common use. There were other problems. Email was fundamentally a broadcast mechanism. Control lay in the hands of the sender. And there was no real cost to sending. Unless there was some meaningful price or penalty, spam was inevitable, both external as well as internal. Furthermore, threading was not always available, so discussions became fragmented and hard to follow. As people began to use attachments, storage vendors chortled in their joy and version mismatch became a common problem in meetings. Which presentation are you looking at? That’s not what my slide 5 says.

Fragmented conversations were a real problem in other ways. Hierarchical organisations have inbuilt frictions, and as they scale the risk of internal politics increases. In such organisations, the fragmentation caused by email sometimes takes a darker route. Person A sends an email to a group of people. Some of them reply-all, seeing that it is the right thing to do. A few others then corrupt the conversation, by taking a few people off the recipient list and adding a few more, with liberal doses of cc and bc. Before you know it there are now multiple conversations with different carefully-chosen groups of people, with only a few, usually politically-motivated, members playing puppetmaster to all the conversations. Cut-and-paste then comes into play, as segments of one set of conversations get viewed in other, exclusive, environments.

And then we have the ultimate, the Infinite Loop. The phenomenon that grinds decision-making to a halt as people strive to obtain consensus via mail. I was on vacation at the time. I didn’t see that message. Constant re-openings of the same debate as people try and get a synchronous outcome out of an asynchronous tool without the agreements and conventions in place to do it. Sometimes I think that Infinite Loopery is the single biggest cause of male pattern baldness. Tear your hair out time.

When we think about a world where everyone is connected, where everything is a node on the network, where every node can publish and subscribe, we can understand the need for the stream/filter/drain architecture. When I speak of network-based filters in this context, it behooves me to view the stream as a successor to mail, at least to begin with.

    The network as filter

People use “social” to mean many things. A social worker; social sciences; social media; the social enterprise. I am not here to debate all these meanings or fight for one or the other. One of the joys of any language is the natural ambiguity that uses context to help discover meaning. For example, I love the way that in many Indian Sanskrit-based language, the word for yesterday is the same as the word for tomorrow.

I think of social as a filter. Let me explain.

In email days, if I went on vacation, my inbox would pile up agonisingly. A week away meant a few thousand emails to read. And to respond to, given that social conventions now expect you to answer all emails. One of my erstwhile colleagues, Stu Berwick, when talking about different modes of communications, remarked that instant messaging was unusual in that it was “polite to be silent”. When new modes of communication emerge, this is often the case. It was so with email as well.

Back to me on vacation. Thousands of emails in mailbox when I return. What do I do? Start with the oldest, onslaught of replies, frustration level growing as I see later mails on the same subject, mails which would have had me reply differently. So with that experience go on to plan B, start with the newest. Same problem, because the conversation thread is not quite integral. Fragmentation frustration.

So what’s the solution? More precisely, what was the solution? For many people, it was this. Feign some mild stomach disorder or plumbing problem. Go regularly to loo. Sneak a quick look at the blackberry (remember them). Respond to urgent and important items before they complexify.

That was in a publisher-has-power world. Today’s social-network firehose-stream world is different. You choose whom you follow.

Amongst the people you follow is this class of person called your friend. At work and at play, in business as well as in personal life.

These friends know you, know what’s important to you. Sometimes they even know what’s important to you despite your not recognising or acknowledging that importance.

These friends are your social filters. You no longer have to read every email. When you come back from vacation, whatever has passed in the stream unread can stay unread.

Why? Because you have a network of friends. They will DM you or private message you about the things that are important. They will SMS you or text you or IM you or Whatsapp you about the things that are urgent.

And they, as a friends collective, will RT and +1 and Like stuff as well. As part of an even greater collective, the firehose, they will make things trend.

You get all those filtering benefits. Because it’s based on subscriber power and not publisher power, the spam risk is lowered. (Although I am sure there are organisations that mandate your following someone or something and thereby creating network spam).

Your friends will tell you what you missed, which conversations you need to be part of. What’s important. What’s urgent. What’s trending. What’s not.

Your friends, people you trust. People who trust you. People who know you. As individuals and as a collective. People with whom you have a relationship, with the investment of time and effort. A relationship, with all the openness and vulnerability that brings.

Your friends. A very powerful filter. A very very powerful filter.

Your friends don’t just filter in this form. They annotate, comment on, rate,review, recommend every digitally shared social object there is. More on that later.

They solve other problems as well, problems that mechanical filters need help with. Ontologies and taxonomies. You say tomayto. Tagging, hashtags, semantic notation. Integral components of sense making in this flood of information.

Collaborative filters are just the icing on this cake, the ability to discover and be educated by patterns. People who did this also did.

More on this later. Please keep the comments and observations coming.

Posted in Four pillars .

What I’m reading at present

At least three of the books below made my reading list because one of you told me it was worth it…..So here’s my current batch of ten, just in case they make you think of something else I should be reading. Who knows, you may find something of interest there as well.


  • Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Robin Sloan. Nearly finished. Relishing it, slowing it down as I approach the end.
  • Gray Men. Tomotake Ishikawa. An intriguing Noir Anonymous-era novel, translated from the Japanese, written by someone from my children’s generation. Midway.
  • Eminent Hipsters. Donald Fagen. Too much of a Steely Dan fan to miss this one. But haven’t started it yet.
  • Shoot The Woman First. Wallace Stroby. His two previous books were both Kirkus-starred. Rare. I liked them both. Just started this one.
  • No Man Is An Island. Thomas Merton. Recommended by a friend after I wrote the Forgiveness post. Loving it. Almost done.
  • Pure, White and Deadly. John Yurkin. Been fascinated/revolted by the sugar vs fats vs industry vs regulator shenanigans. Had to check this ’72 warning. Part way.
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying. Ryan Holliday. Recommended by a reader, focused on how people game today’s media, social and otherwise. Unstarted.
  • The Lowland. Jhumpa Lahiri. How can I not read a novel set at least partly in the Calcutta of my youth? Just getting into it.
  • Steps to An Ecology of Mind. Gregory Bateson. Reading it for the second time, slowly. Will probably be reading it for the next six months. Need to understand it better.
  • The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons. Lawrence Block. Been waiting patiently for this Rhodenbarr. Holding it off till my next daytime flight to San Francisco.

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