On The Filter Bubble

I've never really been very big on the 'filter bubble' theory. Whilst I can appreciate the thought that increasing personalisation of digital services based on data can shape our input in some areas I think it's too much of a generalisation to say, as Eli Pariser does, that we live in our own personal universe of information online and that "the internet is showing us what we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see". I think the variety of services we use, the variable methods of discovery, different combinations of curation, and the choices we deliberately make to broaden input act against this. 

If I think about my own consumption habits, the breadth of sources that I consume now (both passively and actively) has exploded in comparison to ten years ago. Quite apart from anything else, the effortless globalisation of content means that I'm just as likely to discover and read something from The Atlantic, or the Sydney Morning Herald or Campaign Asia or Aeon as I am from The Daily Telegraph, and the same is true of the blogs I read, the videos I watch, and the content I happen across by falling down those link rabbit holes that we all do. A new study by Newsworks and Twitter has found that 60% of respondents had engaged with newsbrands on Twitter that they wouldn't typically read in print. I think it is too simplistic to assume that increasing sophistication of algorithmic curation in some services automatically means a deteriation in overall serendipity and diversity.

This Week's Favourite Fraggl Links


Here's my favourite links from this week, curated by Fraggl:


  • And Virgin America's new safety video (above) is really something to behold - a five minute dance routine that has had more than 9 million views on YouTube since its release

You can of-course sign up to Fraggl here.

Facebook Creative Labs

Facebook_Creative_LabsOne of the most interesting things I read about the launch of Facebook Paper focused on how it came about. It was the first output from Facebook Creative Labs, an initiative that has been deliberately set up to enable small teams to come together to work on experimental projects including new standalone apps. Until now, much of Facebook's innovation pipeline (including Chat, Events calendar, video uploads and so on) came from their regular hackathons which mostly focused on ways of augmenting the core experience.

But as Facebook has scaled, even the smallest changes can have potentially significant impacts on it's business, so experimentation becomes much tougher (Paper’s product designer Mike Matas apparently says that playing with the main app or site is like ‘going in and messing up a billion people’s furniture’). Paper came out of a fifteen person team that worked for over a year to create this re-imagining of the newsfeed as a separate app. But unlike a traditional skunkworks approach, Creative Labs is not a physical space or a formal reorganisation of the company but 'a way to explore new forms of social connection'. It's also an interesting way, I think, to maintain agility as you scale, and a good platform from which to focus on building a suite of standalone mobile apps.

Defining Stock and Flow Content


Noah Brier has a good take on the development of the stock and flow model for content. It's a good metaphor, and one that I've used a lot over the past couple of years. Originated by technologist Robin Sloan, who first took the economic concept and applied it to content in this way:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Noah makes the point that whilst stock and flow is still a useful way to think about how to create marketing content, the distinction between the two is becoming more blurry. I think he's right. But for me it's also always been potentially quite ill-defined beyond Robin's original explication, and I've seen it used in different contexts to describe different types of content. So exactly what is stock, and what is flow?

Building on that original interpretation, here's my definition:

  • Stock content is more likely to be orginal, durable content that retains or builds value over time and keeps people coming back. So it is often (but not always) 'destination' content in that it is housed on owned media assets. It may be entertaining, informative or just useful (like a guide, or directory). It may be one-off, or episodic content that you can follow or even subscribe to. A simple example might be an article written by a brand or a publisher that still ranks high on high volume search terms and so continues to bring in a regular stream of users to the brand or publisher site over an extended period of time. Or it might be something more complex such as content on a community hub or useful functionality on a site. The user context for stock context is more likely to be seeking information, entertainment or inspiration, exploring or engaging. Designing for stock content means creating assets whose fundamental characteristic is that their value is not restricted to a short period of time. 
  • Flow content is more likely to defined by a short spike of audience attention and a user context more identified with browsing, grazing, updating, sharing, and interacting. Flow content lives in the stream, is fast, snackable, highly spreadable and shareable, social and mobile friendly. It is often (but not always) 'distributed' content, which is out there in the fabric of the web. Designing for flow content means designing for portability and shareability.

Can a piece of content be both? A single initiative can certainly incorporate both and I think it's possible for something to start out flow and end up stock. But the real point here is of-course that a good content calendar should incorporate a balance of both types, and that they should work together to build value over time.

Photo Credit: Simon Greig (xrrr) via Compfight cc

Building The New

Patricia MacDonald has an excellent rumination building on posts in the first few weeks of this year from Mel Exon, Andy Whitlock, Toby Barnes (and Alexis Madrigal's piece on The Year the Stream Crested) that thematically all talked about the need to take a step back from the never ending streams of content that seem to continuously wash over us. I have a couple of immediate thoughts to add.

When I wrote about that Madrigal piece I wrote about appreciating the desire for a sense of closure, edges, and structure. If I'm honest, what worries me about the whole Content Marketing thing is that there will be too much focus on content in the context of simplistic, one dimensional marketing goals and not enough, as Ian Fitzpatrick rightly says, on content as something that can facilitate great customer experiences.

There's a lot of crap out there. There will be a lot more crap out there. In fact I don't think we can even appreciate now just how much more crap there will be out there. But there will also be brilliance. And perhaps it is (as Clay Shirky said long ago), less about information overload and more about filter failure (hello Fraggl). We all needs rocks to stand on in the stream. We just have to create bigger and better ones.

So has the revolution really paused, as Pats suggests? It certainly feels like we've moved into a different phase. And yes, one where the real hard work begins. For me, that means a focus on the things that rarely get talked about yet will drive the real change. Stuff like organisational design, resourcing, processes, behaviours and culture. 

To bastardise that Socrates quote in the post below, it feels like we've been fighting the old for a long time. And now it really is time to build the new.