A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Part I of FIVE EASY PIECES: On Curation, Content as Experience and Federated Systems #ThinkState

By Gunther Sonnenfeld, with key contributions from Brendan Howley, Ishan Shapiro and Gavin Keech

The following is the first of five posts on the evolution of the “Human Web”.

“An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied.” ~Arnold Glasow

“If journalists can’t get people to interact with story, we’re going to be left behind.” ~Tim Berners-Lee

Preface

This is a moment of some import in the evolution of Tim Berners-Lee’s brainchild: the web’s ubiquity itself is in play—will the open web devolve into an archipelago of walled-garden content? What’s the future of search and collaboration around search as a life function? Will collaboration become search in this sense and vice-versa? Will scarcity and value co-creation find a new balance in the emerging collaborative marketplace?

Fifty years ago, UC Berkeley History of Science professor, Thomas Kuhn, published an extraordinary book, The Nature of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn described scientific innovation as non-linear, a sawtooth of sorts; he argued that science plateaus, then gathers itself around a new idea set (almost always anomalies), and then leaps upward, a process later termed “paradigm shift.”

Kuhn’s “stair-step” of stasis-crisis-innovation aptly describes the Internet evolution, if one casts the mind back to an Alta Vista crawler indexing and Netscape’s browser as state-of-the-art, through Google’s mastery of page-rank search and targeted ad analytics, to real-time mobile social search and location-based services.

It’s time for a stock-taking.

This is the first in a series of posts examining five rubrics:

I. Transition from a scarcity-based web economy to the emerging collaborative marketplace: the nature of real value— and its reciprocity.

II. Now that we can debate value frameworks, why collaborate? Why is curation an active, adaptive skillset, not mere passive aggregation?

III. Knowledge federation as a convergent human technology: why is the nexus of digital collaboration and live event so powerful?

IV. How might emerging technologies augment context to enhance value co-creation? Why will human beings find value in interacting with those technologies? How will artificial intuition contextualize open media ecosystems?

V. Closing the loop: human metadata as meta-value; an evolutionary predictive analytics / incentivization model.


PART I - Embracing & Cultivating the Great Divide

Curation: Content and Context. Managing scarcity in an emergent collaborative marketplace.

Let’s be honest with ourselves.

We often cannot search the way we want to.
We often cannot communicate the way we need to.
We often cannot connect meaningfully although we desire to.
We often cannot sell the way we want to because no one really wants to be sold to
.

There are stories in all of this. There have been for centuries. And where culture and business have evolved almost exclusively for themselves, in and of themselves, we cannot ignore the complex fact that everything is interconnected, and interoperable to a profound degree.

Here’s our three-fold response to that complex fact:

  • We see a new collaborative economy with narrative/meme/story as the medium of exchange.
  • This will culminate in an exchange, or series of federated exchanges, mediated and monetized by an adaptive, socialized search wholly integrated with a databourse—a means of incentivizing premium value via the open sale of structured permission data.
  • The true, permeable federation of those evolving “ecosystems” will synthesize into one, collective layer (the next phase of the Internet).


Perhaps this is where curation steps in to help better evolve our thoughts and actions.


Defining curation.

If you think “curation” is a process by which one aggregates, filters and slaps together cool video, photos, audio and/or text, please, you can stop reading this post.

Still here? Wonderful.

We can think of curation in the same way museums do; a museum curator typically has a background or interest in history, archaeology and/or anthropology. The social web - a system of nodes and connectors that exhibit vibrant anthropological dynamics, both old and new - has already evolved past the element of “conversational discovery” and into various forms of real, tribal connectivity. This means that we ought to be more invested in understanding human dynamics, as expression of the human condition. Maria Popova’s blog platform is a great example of this (Popova is a cultural anthropologist).

So we’re all great writers or great storytellers, are we? And blogging, somehow, will configure, redefine or resurrect our personal brands?

No.

The folks with strong personal brands have worked on their stories for a long time. They curate with relevance attuned to their personalities and experiences, with carefully filtered, well-honed skill-sets. They are successful and influential for very good reason. Friend and colleague, Mitch Joel, comes to mind: Mitch practices what he preaches (based on quite a lot of experience), but also actively explores the unknown. What comes out of that is a rich array of blogs, vlogs, speeches, seminars, books (his second is on the way) and podcasts.

With that said, curation is no recipe, no blueprint designed to master a channel like Facebook, or manage your tweet stream, or improve your Klout score. These things have value, but they are not forms or extensions of “content curation,” at least not in the way they could be.

Curation is something you live by.

Think: mastering the saxophone or the art of bonsai. But know this. It is a mastery of what you know, could know, or are willing to discover, and, dare we say, it comprises functions or disciplines that live well beyond online spaces (especially social media).

The currency we then share is one of knowledge. But not quite in the way you might think. Co-creating value is paradoxical: the more you let go, the more valuable your content becomes.


Micro is the new macro (in a whole new way: mass realization).

Part of our evolutionary cycle is the discovery of knowledge and knowledge systems.

In a recent discussion with Dan Mapes, Founder of MagNet, Dan described the evolutionary process as one that “stair-steps” our levels of collective consciousness; in other words, evolution doesn’t occur in increments, rather it builds onto itself and skips over certain logic gaps.

If we subscribe to the Kurzweilean notion that technology is an extension of biology, what we are experiencing now is the next phase of the Internet, a state of mind that compels us to seek out specific information, gather it via consensus with specific affinity groups, and then act on it in very specific ways. These acts, mind you, are not so much logical as they are emotive and intuitive. And as much purpose or meaning as they may carry, they are actually quite illogical in their very nature.

Take for example the dynamics of social sharing or virality.

In an early engagement with Skype (through the agency I work for), we discovered that virality was really just a hype model – we actually constructed a mathematical means for proving it, and showed that, at best, most “things” have very short half-lives.

Douglas Rushkoff’s recent talk at PivotCon highlights the fact that the values we share in social network environments are memetic; in other words, we share what is useful, and once it isn’t deemed useful anymore, that meme dies on the proverbial media vine, or never gets a chance at life, period.

If we look at this through an economic lens, Don Tapscott’s Macrowikinomics elucidates the further notion that value creation – no matter what the industry is – must reside in collaborative frameworks that are empowered by the individual. Economics are memetic in very specific ways, especially if we revisit or redefine the notions of currency and their respective carrier systems.

This was essentially the impetus for the eCommerce platform Dan and his team built at MagNet, which endeavors to federate social information sharing and purchasing. Dan and his team recognize the importance of allowing people, as individuals, to create or transact instances of their intent, and to build currency around content through consensus.

This is critical when we think about how most commerce and respective media ecosystems cannibalize themselves – at some point, we’re just feeding empty beasts. The social web itself has evolved as a conversation engine that has effectively become a repository for collective intelligence. While still quite challenging to measure and ascertain the meaning of “why” and “how”, we are no less gaining major ground in the way of assessing or analyzing associated behaviors. Further, when we match conversation to intent and action, we see very powerful results.

And this is precisely why we shouldn’t try to corral people into specific environments; let them do what they want or think they want to do, then draw the correlations in between, then empower them to do even better.

Here’s the really interesting part. Arguably, the more we connect, the more we purchase, and the closer we become to each other (and ourselves for that matter). But of course we can’t do it purely online.

Actions in the real world must inform our behaviors online (and vice versa). And whatever we do buy needs to come with a price that isn’t just grounded in monetary value. (This is discussed this at length in a post back in September.) Real value – thick value, as Umair Haque has identified and articulated beautifully – is the reciprocity that we seek, and is what can scale, especially in business.

The web is literally an application layer that wants to become more permeable. The Internet is an evolving network that, in truth, predated technology for centuries. Evolution was already here. And what we do, whatever we choose to do, has to have more meaning... Otherwise we have no interest or stake in actually doing it.

Lisa Hickey’s notion of accidental communities comes to mind here. Microcosms of thought, virtue and circumstance have culminated in micro-communities with the ability and intent to converge around ideas and see them to fruition. This is also where the real social networks will take shape, and are already doing so with great velocity.

However, like anything else human, these require care, nurturing and moderation.


Everyone is (or soon will become) a blogger... Now what?

Now of course there is one enviable component to the social networking game we must examine in earnest: participation.

The Gladwell / Anderson debate a few months back shed some serious light not only on what we construe to be participatory in social network environments (for example, are donations a means for true, social involvement?), but on the notion of complacency, and why curation simply cannot be passive. For one, blogging as we know it, will die a quick death if we are not careful (and we emphasize the phrase as we know it, not the discipline itself).

This is why talking about and/or creating experiences are so vitally important.

Look at all the noise created by folks (and organizations) who only talk about social media guide-points, or profess to be business coaches, or “experts” of one kind or another, but have little or no media marketing experience, little or no experience actually running or starting up a company, or little or no experience building relevant technologies. The fact that there’s nothing really to participate in (and we’re not talking about seminars or workshops) as an action step in the real world - such as a cause or some meaningful business initiative - says everything.

On a larger level, we need to stop maneuvering for a share of voice. We should focus our time and effort on improving the quality of our own voices and language. In other words, we should exercise our relevance.

How do we do this?

It’s a paradox: to find our own voice, and to converge with others—we federate.

The knowledge federation construct is built around the notion that information sharing, while a non-linear activity, can be organized in such a way that we don’t need to extract fact or truth, but converge around it.  Convergence allows us to tap into experiences of real meaning. Blogs themselves, for example, don’t usually converge ideas and actions: they reduce them to their core, or at least they attempt to. This is not a bad thing per se, but it poses a serious problem which is that blogs, universally, are not federated; if we are to develop manifestations of the “truth” or build meaningful consensus around the things we say or do, we must federate.

Collaborative storytelling (dynamic journalism or hybrid/participatory narrative) is a means for doing this.

One of the most interesting examples of this happened last year during the big tsunami warning that hit the southern shores of the Hawaiian Islands. Every news organization was trying to hit the ground running with “exclusives”, when the big players like CNN realized that the real news was coming from accidental journalists on the scene.

One was BJ Penn (the renowned extreme fighting champion), who, armed with a Skype account and a number of social media channels, was enlisted to report on the scene from his home. BJ and several other influencers converged around the story as a whole, and the news stream was given renewed context.

Similar scenarios were resident during the Haiti disaster (and still are), in which accidental journalism played a critical role in developing a hybrid, meta narrative.

The takeaway? With the right intent and action, journalistic and (micro)blogging disciplines can merge to create meaning and context in a highly fluid situation.

So, how do we optimize the accidental?

Curation as a means for context -- the nub of the second of our five pieces.

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The following illustrations manifested by Gavin Keech represent the infocology of how content develops as a fluid experience, as well as what the variables for an experience might look like. These will be posted within each of the next four pieces to hopefully provide and gather more context; the last piece will actually walk us through what an interface experience might look like, with an emphasis on how purchasing and social value can align.

First, is the infocology of content as a fluid experience. While you can identify a pentagram shape within the design, do not be alarmed ;) Our intention is to build technologies around or representative of these flowcycles.

Part I of FIVE EASY PIECES: On Curation, Content as Experience and Federated Systems #ThinkState

Here are the precepts, or experiential drivers, for content interface variables. Please note that these are explorations, frameworks if you will, that address content dynamics, but do not intend to identify all of them (as dynamics constantly change).

Part I of FIVE EASY PIECES: On Curation, Content as Experience and Federated Systems #ThinkState

Clearly, this stuff is dense – we know this – but we want you to engage with us in a discourse around these recursive elements. We live in a world of complex systems; embracing complexity is the bridge to intelligence discovery, and of course, an approach for curating meaningful experiences.