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10 September 2009 ~ 1 Comment                                       

The Fractured Digital Life: How many more social and media sharing sites can we handle?

I have always been an Internet geek. I’m not ashamed to say it — well maybe a little. Having been online for 15 years now, I have seen the evolution from the beginning as a user and we find ourselves today in an untenable position. A fractured landscape of occasionally walled-off content services and media sources and a schizoprenic online experience.

To illustrate, my personal Internet media habits consist of publishing:

    Status updates/links: Twitter, Facebook
    Articles: here at Co-innovative
    Bookmarks: delicious
    Photos: Flickr, Facebook
    Email: Gmail

Comments: rarely.

And consuming — nee devouring! — content from:

    10 news/tech sites I check regularly
    Google Reader where I subscribe to 150 less frequently updated sites that I don’t want to miss a word of
    Youtube, Vimeo, Hulu

And I have tried to limit this list, while more heavy users would list dozens of sites.

What doesn’t exist yet is a useful, intuitive dashboard that allows for digital lifestyle aggregation and seamless lifestreaming: one place to go in which I can easily interact with, consume from, and publish to all of these disparate services through the use of various media. It may end up being impossible to handle all in one place, but who knows.

The problem is some content I don’t want to miss — certain feeds, contacts from friends, emails — while other content I am happy to look in on occasionally to see the latest stuff — Twitter, links posted by friends, news sites. On the flip side, when I’m posting content sometimes I want to share it with the world at large — this article — other times I want to share it with just my family or just my friends — Facebook. Throwing in another wrench is the fine line between business and professional related online interactions and personal interactions.

It’s a confusing mess involving a ton of different sites. Just posting photos is annoying: “I want to post this for just my family as my friends will be bored to tears.” “One of my friends in these photos isn’t on Facebook…” What comes along with this is a certain amount of inexplicable, ridiculous anxiety; “Am I missing something awesome?” “I better document this and remember to post it.” “I’ve got to get through my emails and my RSS feeds.” While there is some inherent attraction to capturing and aggregating everything digital in your daily life from books you rate highly on Goodreads to a Flip video, there is no easy way to set it all up in a nice looking centralized site, though Posterous is pretty close. But really, is it of value to anyone to see EVERYTHING you do? Few people care and they only care to a point. It might be satisfying for you to see and to look back occasionally on what was going on at a particular time, but that’s about it.

Selectivity in publishing will make the online experience better for everyone.

Facebook is getting close to solving some of these problems but still has a variety of issues. Further, a centralized service is not in our best interests as users; content and connections should flow freely through standards based connections that allow for multiple front and back ends and mashups. Decentralized, distributed services wouldn’t be beholden to outages nor would one company have all the power and it would spur innovation to boot.

Dave Winer and Marc Canter have been saying similar things since about the Clinton administration from the standpoint of infrastructure and connections while Steve Rubel has been more recently discussing it from a publishing and consumption lifestream perspective.

All of this ignores the higher level issue of whether one should even be doing any of this, whether one should disengage more fully and focus on what is really important in their personal, professional, and creative lives — a la Tim Ferriss and Zen Habits. For me, I think I have found a good balance of checking in when I can but unplugging the rest of the time — notwithstanding the occasional marathon sessions.

My prediction: services will become increasingly open until information is exchanged between services via standards that will allow for the type of innovation, reliability, and decentralization to produce a better, more coherent experience online.

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One Response to “The Fractured Digital Life: How many more social and media sharing sites can we handle?”

  1. Glenn 11 September 2009 at 6:10 pm Permalink

    What an excellent and timely post! We are actually starting an open source project to address this very problem. I have posted an open challenge on Cogenuity to begin to solicit public opinion on this.

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