The Future of the Filter

FilterLet me start by saying that I am all for empowering the individual to share. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again.

Luckily, this is already happening online. In fact, it has already happened. Past tense. It’s old news.

For those who need statistics — according to Forrester’s most recent data:

  • 70% of US adults come into contact with some form of social media, such as by reading blogs, watching videos from other users, or listening to podcasts
  • 59% visit social networking sites
  • 37% comment and contribute online
  • 24% create their own content

So let it be known to all — if there was any question left in your mind, the individual has been empowered in the online space.

The question now is, with so many empowered individuals out there, how in the world are we supposed to take in all this information, find what is relevant to each of us, and use it, all the while maintaining some sort of efficiency?


I frequently find myself referencing Jeremiah Owyang and Forrester’s Five Eras of the Social Web. I believe¬†we are really beginning to move into the third era: social colonization, in which every experience online can be social.

This is a great thing. (Hurray, progress!) However, to remain practical, it is imperative that we move into the fourth era — the era of social context, with personalized and accurate content — and to do so, filters will be key.

Until a few years ago, the media acted as our filter, with each publication or network sharing what they thought its audience should be exposed to.

Then, over the past few years, many sites have begun to offer their own filters for digital content:

  • For years, Google has offered its SafeSearch filter, so inappropriate content does not appear in your search results.
  • Facebook provides filters for the news feed, allowing you to control who will show up in your feed, and how often.
  • Twitter¬†introduced location-based filters yesterday, allowing users to see trending topics based upon geography.

We also filter based on the source of content. For example, we may use those we have met through social networking as filters (e.g., I like Chris Brogan’s posts and tend to have a similar point of view, so I read the links he posts and retweets.)

These filters are somewhat effective, but they are limiting because they force us to depend on a source to provide the content we want, rather than allowing the content to find us.

I believe that the future of filtering will not be done by source, but rather by content.

Could the future be such that we no longer need to use a different filter on each network? What if a service could auto-filter for us, based on our past and current behaviors? And how far could this go before we all would become worried about privacy violations?

It’s also interesting to consider the marketing implications. Online advertisers already have many of these tools (psychographic, lifestyle, and behavioral tracking) at their disposal for targeting purposes, so the infrastructure exists. We just need to find a way to use the same technologies as consumers to make sure that the relevant content we want is delivered.

And once these helpful filters are in place, in the end, do we end up right back where we started…by filtering out the voices of all of the individuals that we meant to empower? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!

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2 responses to “The Future of the Filter

  1. Brian M

    That’s an interesting thought – filtering by content, that is. I think you’re right that almost everything we do online now can be social (although I’m not sure how useful that always can be). However, filtering by content is an extremely difficult, and maybe not even an ideal, task to accomplish. The problem starts with having our information everywhere: friends on Facebook, email on Gmail, news on CNN, photos on Flickr…the list goes on. While some companies have attempted to centralize the information (see Yahoo’s home page allowing you to check info on different websites), the attempts haven’t really made much progress. It’s the same problem with TV and computers: shouldn’t we be able to combine our online experience with cable programming? Up to this point, no company has been completely been successful at merging the two (AppleTV, Hulu). I’m not going to make a claim that people don’t want centralized information, but I think the problem is that most websites (and businesses) make their systems extremely proprietary. In other words, businesses don’t have an incentive to combine their web applications with other web applications. The problem goes even further with making money: a lot of these businesses make money with advertising – Google, Facebook, Flickr. If there’s a centralized content system, how would each separate business make money?

    • Hi Brian,

      You have a good point — if there were some sort of centralized content system, I think there would need to be a business model that would somehow share profits with the content owners.

      However, I was picturing this filter in a different sort of way. Let’s say that I search Google News or Google Blogs fairly often, with the same set of keywords, and I tend to click on certain types of links more than others. What I envision is Google (or whoever) providing content to me that is deemed to be relevant based on my past online behaviors. I’m picturing this like my Google Reader, but in reverse — I wouldn’t subscribe to specific blogs/sites; Google would give me things it assumes I would like.

      The behavioral tracking systems are already in place, because we use them in advertising, and they’re pretty sophisticated. It would be cool to see the data used for this purpose.

      Of course, this plan falls apart when content publishers put up paywalls (like the NY Times plans to do).

      Thanks for your feedback!


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