The Good Librarian

2011/04/30


Current Web products tend to concentrate on how to better organize and develop the flow of information (how to share more content more easily, how to reach a larger crowd, how to get more of the content you already spend the most time on, etc), while mostly ignoring the psychological aspects of content sharing and content creation.

This results in awesome communication tools that are used mostly for dynamics of collective stupidity. Don't see what I mean? Check out the current trending topics on Twitter –a fantastic product as far as sharing is concerned. That's what the web of the future could be about: sharing more mediocrity, more easily. Incredible technology turned into a sad Skinner box. Is this what we really need?

The thing is, contrarily to the philosophy behind past web products, our means of communication are not in fact content-neutral, and more does not mean better. Technology shapes the nature and quality of the content that dominates the web. But the content-propagation criteria that companies have been leaning towards so far, for commercial reasons –lowest-denominator-type catchiness, critical-mass-type popularity– are just not bringing the best out of each of us. Today, there is a real need to incorporate into web products some sort of strategy for bettering the quality of the content being produced and consumed.

There's a real need to incorporate into web products some sort of strategy for bettering the quality of the content being produced and consumed



That can only be done by incorporating a focus on users' psychology into our designs. How can we motivate our users to create and share better content? How can we give them the means to do so –both inspiration and technical know-how? How can we favor the spread of high-quality content? How can we develop the crowd's collective intelligence and inhibit current dynamics of collective stupidity?

Here are some ideas for developing a creativity-focused social media product.

Get users to start up content-production projects, and give value to these projects



Only if people have projects at all and are focused on them will they start organizing in a constructive fashion the flow of information they're plunged in. Absence of focus is the number one factor behind the trend of collective stupidity that is so common on the web. To the contrary, being project-driven allows you to extract constructive meaning from the seemingly random information you come across. Focus can turn noise into gold.

Valuing user's projects as an important part of their lives can be done quite efficiently by tying projects to people's social identity.

Give users the motivation to perseverate and see their dreams through



Having the vision is the first step, but too often the feedback from the web can throw your first attempts back at your face. Reaching the right crowd can be a painstaking, awfully long process when it really shouldn't be. If the web can make it so that quality producers can stay focused, everything else will follow.
In the best creative communities out there, social is leveraged to keep users on the right track. The content that users produce and share becomes part of their identity, and the warm, constructive social feedback received from the community –and often enough from people playing a mentor role– motivates them to overcome the daily obstacles of their creative pursuits. I believe these logics can be replicated at a much larger scale.

By shaping our content-propagation system into a creative meritocracy at the scale of the entire web, we can associate a high reward feedback with quality production, creating an effective incentive for users to work harder toward their creative goals. Currently, quality content is too often striving to be seen while piano-playing cats harvest tens of millions of hits. As for constructive feedback, let's not even talk about it. The reason? Content-propagation processes that focus merely on critical mass.

Give users access to inspiration



We humans tend to always make more of the same, to gravitate towards the areas we already know. What you can imagine is limited by what's you've seen so far. Fostering uniqueness and quality can only be done by exposing the right people to the right content.
Imagine a web that would be like a "good librarian". A librarian friend that knows you, your tastes and your dreams, and knows everything they have in stock on the tip of their fingers. The next book the good librarian will suggest to you will be precisely the one that is most likely to make you grow further, the one that will most resonate with your identity and your projects, that will most inspire you, make you glimpse new horizons.

Imagine a web that would be like a good librarian



Sadly that good librarian is not StumbleUpon. Not yet. Although a very good product, its internal logic is still one of critical-mass-focused content propagation. Besides, SU is entirely centered on consumption, rather than creation. I would say, actually, that it is centered on distraction –the opposite of what we want. At the other end of the spectrum, I have this vision of intelligent, constructive recommendation engines powered by the crowd's collective intelligence and bootstrapped by advanced AI. More on that soon...



Give users access to learning



Since the industrial revolution, learning has been classroom-based. A static, boring, asynchronous, potential-wasting state of intellectual subjugation. That was a model from before the Internet, from a time where knowledge was scarce and barriers to access it were many. A model conceived to meet the needs of an industry-centered civilization that we no longer live But today things don't have to be that way. Today knowledge is everywhere. It gets crowd-sourced, it gets curated, catalogued, tutorialized. Today learning can be social. Learning can be on-demand. Learning can be game-like.
Technical knowledge should never be the limit.

Free user's time so they can use it in productive ways



Scarcity is not the problem –abundance is. Day after day, social media is gnawing at our free time and over-information is chopping up our attention span, focus and sense-making ability. As any lucid twitter addict knows, it's starting to be a real problem.

The web has become a huge distraction. But it doesn't have to be that way



But I believe that exploring the space of information can be done in a time efficient-way, that gets you focused back on your productive pursuits. The current web wants your mind to get filled with information that is attention-catching, or that is simply fun to know, instead of favoring only what's constructive, what's necessary to move forward. The web has become a huge distraction. But it doesn't have to be that way. The web can be project-centric. Social can be constructive. It's all about content-propagation logics. (More soon on the Information Diet and serendipity management.)

That is it.



Contrarily to countless social media companies, I don't care about people's lives. I don't want to index information about them. I care about what people can come up with. I care about what they can create. About ideas and creativity. Collective intelligence.

I want you to be great. And if you could care less about being a creator and a leader, I'm going to start by getting you motivated. I want you to be excited about something. I want you to start projects, and work on them with all your heart. I want you to contribute to the global edifice with something unique. What do you say?