Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Do We Need Another Information Sharing Platform?

Diagram of a social network from Wikimedia Commons
Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Blogger......We now have numerous ways to share information with each other and many of us already feel overwhelmed by the massive amount of information that we are presented with. When I read that the co-founders of Twitter Evan Williams and Biz Stone are creating a new information sharing platform, I asked myself: Is that really necessary? Aren't we already drowning in information? This new platform is called "Medium" and posting on this new platform is currently only available to selected individuals as it is being tested and developed. Soon, everyone who registers via their Twitter account will be able to post on it. Evan Williams gives us a preview of the nature and goals of "Medium" in an introductory post:
1999 was the year we launched Blogger. Ideas that seemed radical at the time--that anyone, anywhere could and should publish their thoughts to the global Internet audience (for free)--are now taken for granted.
This is definitely true. Anyone who has the sudden urge to publicly share their ideas or feelings can start a blog. Whether there is an audience that will read the blog is a separate question. Williams then writes:
Lots of services have successfully lowered the bar for sharing information, but there's been less progress toward raising the quality of what's produced.
This also is true. When we look at our Twitter feeds, Facebook updates or the millions of blog posts that are generated, it is difficult to claim that the quality of information being exchanged is improving. However, improving the quality of exchanged information seems to be a rather lofty goal and it is not clear that a new platform will necessarily achieve that. "Medium" will apparently rely on two key principles: Rating and Organizing.

 1. Rating:

Williams writes:
Medium is designed to allow people to choose the level of contribution they prefer. We know that most people, most of the time, will simply read and view content, which is fine. If they choose, they can click to indicate whether they think something is good, giving feedback to the creator and increasing the likelihood others will see it.
This will create a hierarchy of information, indicating which information is liked most. This does not seem too dissimilar from the rating that is currently achieved by existing platforms, such as Facebook, which allow one to "like" or "Share" articles, posts or images. Similarly, in Twitter the "Top Tweets" function shows the tweets that are most frequently re-tweeted or favorited.

  2. Organizing

A second key principle is the fact that posts will be organized in collections:
Posting on Medium (not yet open to everyone) is elegant and easy, and you can do so without the burden of becoming a blogger or worrying about developing an audience. All posts are organized into "collections," which are defined by a theme and a template.
Organizing information into collections may indeed be very helpful. When we, for example, look at our Twitter feeds to find information on specific topics, we usually depend on the hashtags or key words included in the tweets. Since a tweet only allows for a total of 140 characters and everyone can create new hashtags in a very subjective and arbitrary manner, it is very challenging to find information on a specific topic. Examples of the limited currently available "Medium" collections can be viewed and include "This Happened To Me" or "Look What I Made".
It is still not clear that "Medium" really represents a revolution in information exchange. One key difference between "Medium" and Twitter seems to be the fact that "medium" users will not be constrained by the 140 character limit. However, a lot of its success will depend on how the information on "Medium" will be organized and how users will be able to navigate the collections. If users will arbitrarily create new collections and generate millions of posts on a daily basis, we might still end up in an information jungle that does not represent the "evolutionary leap" the founders are aiming for. On the other hand, if "Medium" does create a way to organize the posts in collections that can be easily navigated or searched, it is likely to succeed, especially among Twitter users who feel they need more then 140 characters to express themselves.

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