Taran Rampersad's blog

Digital Tribes And Search.

A social networking diagram of tribes. Click for original and Creative Commons License information. On the internet, if it's free, you're pretty much the service (not the product). The distinction between product and service is pretty important here, since on the Internet your digital footprint is a process. How dynamic that process is determined by how often your information is updated - not just by yourself, but others.

So you're not a product for social networks, et al. You're a service. We could deviate into how companies make money off of your network interactions, but instead I'll write about the tribes.

The people you're connected with on social networks are your digital tribe. They influence you and companies are aware of that. By design, your social networks provide you with content that people within your network share. This, by itself, is common sense and is only a digital extension of how society works. We listen to our friends, and opposing opinions are rarely valued. I won't say whether this is good or bad - but it's simply how it works.

Enter the search engines who know your network, such as Google. When you're logged into Google, any searches you do are influenced by the network that you have on Google as well as. And your network, lest you forget, can be broken down into a matrix of common interests (the basis for the Hedgehog Project that I've been toying with and explained a bit better in 'The Matrix of Intimacy Part I').

So what you presently search for is influenced - and at least in some regards, limited - by the size of your network. It wasn't always this way, but targeted advertising is a force of economy that refuses to be ignored. Camouflaged, yes, but not ignored. It almost resolves the issues I brought up in 'Tags, Time and Content Creators', but it's sometimes - maybe often - biased toward the now and popularity of the author/topic.

When it comes to actual information, this may not be the best way to go simply because #YOLO was popular. It's a balancing act and requires a lot of a user who wants information from a text box.  Google, as an example, has a bunch of search tips that most people have no idea about which can be really useful.

But it's not intuitive.

 

Tags, Time and Content Creators

You're next!This entry builds on the shoulders of 'The Trouble With Tagging' and 'Navigation in a Multidimensional World of Data'. If you feel like you're missing something, check out those entries.

In previous entries I mentioned the subjectivity of tags as well as the need to have more than one point to navigate from. While some of what I'm writing about has been done, it is masked by a single text box with a search button next to it - be it on this site or a search engine of your choosing.

Tag subjectivity really depends on the author, the time of the writing (what the tag meant at the time of writing) and the site on which the content is published.

The Author

As I mentioned before, there are two extremes of tagging that content creators are somewhere between. Simply put, these extremes are, 'be seen' and 'be accurate'.

We all know content that has been tagged to 'be seen' that isn't accurate. That's a constant battle with search engines against those that game the system to have their content seen, and the motivation for that is typically advertising. It's aggravating at times to type in a search phrase only to be inundated with a bunch of links best described as 'crap'.A photo I posted on Flickr, which I tagged very tongue in cheek, gets views because of the tags I used - and it's safe to say that someone searching for such things is more interested in content of another type. The same is true of this image. While both images are work safe (and very PG), people who search for certain keywords are likely upset with me because of the tagging. Of course, they won't complain, and I get a few chuckles.

Accuracy, on the other hand, is a bit different. Being a bit of a naturalist, I take photos of wildlife and tag them with their scientific names. A great example of this is this image of a young cane toad. Because I tagged it accurately, the image (with my permission) made it's way onto sites related to invasive species in Florida. In fact, images that I have licensed out have been tagged accurately - translating to 'getting paid'.

Getting a little bit ahead: Images that I have had a little fun with the tagging don't really earn. But then, I don't make money off of advertising on Flickr. In fact, Flickr doesn't make money advertising on Flickr.

Content creator subjectivity in tagging can allow for content to get views for the wrong reasons, or it can allow for content to get views for the right reasons. The wrong or right, despite what you may think as a content creator, is not up to the content creator. It's dependent on the audience and it's also dependent on time.

Time

Almost all of my content views do not happen when I publish the content. My experience is that my style typically gets more reads after a few months. We could attribute this to a lot of things such as popularity of the topic and popularity of the content creator. I've never really been interested in being popular - I've been popular for periods - but I've found things that I've written about have been popular and sometimes are cyclically popular.

Some things are timeless. Music, books, movies - even ideas - some of these are timeless. In the grand scheme of things, they represent a very small percentage of what has been created.

Can you name something created on the internet and for the internet that's timeless? There are some things that are, but when it comes to popular content on the Internet, you'll likely not find anything that stands the test of time.

Then we get into what tags mean. For example, prior to February 4th, 2004, the tags 'social media' and 'social network' would not have included Facebook. Prior to July, 2006, Twitter wouldn't have been encapsulated by those tags either. Why? Because they didn't exist prior to those dates. And when it comes to social media and social networking, in a popular sense, how many people even know about or remember Orkut? Relatively few, I imagine.

So what tags mean is dependent on when they were used - and even The Semantic Sphere 1: Computation, Cognition and Information Economy doesn't really speak to that issue. Symbols, words, meanings - they change.

Don't believe me? Look up a random word at Etymonline.com.

Tags and Searches

There are obviously a lot of issues with tagging content, and while their typical use of what's popular now, over time the tag degrades. It's not hopeless, though.

There are two things that can be done with searches - and tagging content in general - that can be done to assure that content stands the test of time. The content creator and the time of publishing, generally speaking, are methods of searching - and maybe we should be treating them as tags within content management systems. Sure, you can search by person, and on some sites you can even search between specific dates, but those are not the standard and they are not the standard because they were never designed this way. They are treated differently in databases, typically in different database tables altogether.

A few of you might see where I'm going with this...

 

Anecdote: eCommerce, Social Media and Customer Service

Books in: R.A. Salvatore signed!I'm a fan of R.A. Salvatore for a variety of reasons, but suffice to say that he writes things that I enjoy reading. Some weeks ago, I came across his page on Facebook - and as a human being, he's pretty awesome too. I should mention C.J. Cherryh's 'Wave Without a Shore' site too, because she's another great author selling direct.

Over the years, even before the Internet, I gobbled his books from anywhere I could get them. I have fond memories of doing some stuff in Alaska with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines and having one of his books in my pack - which came in real handy for 24 hour days when everyone was bedded down and twiddling their thumbs. R.A. Salvatore's work has been a constant. 

The story should be that I bought some books, he signed them and sent them to me and I received them. That is the story, but something different happened in the middle that is worth mentioning.

They emailed me to see if I had received them.

That's a nice touch in a world of Amazon, where they believe you got them based on what UPS reports to them through layers of a silicon network. A human being, Diane, his wife, reached out to me. When I found that I had idiotically deleted the email with the tracking number, she sent it to me.

So let's take stock. We have:

  • an author that was selling books to consumers before the Internet.
  •  initial contact through social media with a consumer (me).
  • the consumer finding out about a solution to his problems - all the darned books lent out over the years and never gotten back, and wanting to read the series from start to end in the order the author intended.
  • the transaction, where the site and the consumer shook hands, traded some numbers, etc.
  • follow-up. 'Did you get it?'

The last part is the one that so many companies forget these days. It shows a level of interest in the consumer that seems to be becoming unfashionable.

It shouldn't become unfashionable.

This is the sort of experience that anyone involved with eCommerce should be trying to emulate. We all like to be treated like we're human beings and that we matter. In that respect, it's a little sad that this is something I find blogworthy considering how much I buy online. It demonstrates that it's not the norm of my experience.

Of course, it helps to have a great product.

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