David Weinberger gets at one of the key issues at that interface where we are sliced and diced by collaborative filter engines that wish to create the illusion of a social reality. He's talking about one such illusion, called Friendster. To what extent is the illusion false just from how it approaches "getting to know" us?
First, to jump into Friendster, I have to make explicit a social network that at its heart and at its best is implicit. There's an online social network lying unearthed in my inbox and outbox. Why do I have to reassemble it, person by person, for Friendster? And if Friendster doesn't work out, do I do it again for the next attempt? That would be a pain in the ass, but because it involves persuading my friends to sign up, it's asking others to get pains in their asses.
Then Friendster asks me to describe myself. Gender, age, occupation all are no problem. But then there are my interests, my favorite music, favorite TV shows and "about me." I don't actually have an internal list of favorite music so I can't simply make explicit what was implicit all along. I'd have to fabricate a list and do so pretty much without context. Bach? Ellington? Beck? Two measures of a Keith Jarrett improvisation that took me totally by surprise? The time I cried when listening to kd lang even though she never moved me again? The song I whistle ("Octopus' Garden") in the shower even though I don't like it?
"Making explicit" rarely means simply unearthing what's lying there unearthed. It means creating something new. That's why the best service technicians aren't necessarily the best teachers: there's no such thing as humans doing a "data dump."
I know this sounds like a rather abstract reason for not liking a well-designed site such as Friendster. But the abstraction is from a very concrete experience: facing a Web page that wants me to list my favorite friends, my favorite books, my favorite music. I can't because I don't really have an internal set of bookmarks I can simply externalize. And I wouldn't if I could. More...
Tara Calishain's newsletter, Research Buzz, was recommended years ago by Christopher Locke, and remains a weekly treasure of insight into search engines and search strategies. Her new book, Google Hacks, written with Rael Dornfest, is getting good press. It's full of tricks, says Andy Ihnatko of the Chicago Sun Times:
What happens if you type in a person's name, followed by a comma and the state they live in? Heyyy. A little creepy, but cool. Some sample hacks.