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Debra Scherer

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A Web of One's Own

Posted: 12/07/11 03:16 PM ET

As online experiences continue to evolve, patterns of behavior become more apparent. Systems are continually being developed, luring users to participate by allowing them to share, follow, upload, download; anything they want, as long as they fill out a profile and allow the systems to use that information, sometimes for the benefit of the user, sometimes for the benefit of the system itself. Its as if everyone was involved in a big practice exercise. We are finding out more about what we like, who we like and how we like to do it. All while the word "like" itself takes on new meanings. It has really become to mean one of two things. The most popular usage now means "I recommend," which fits into the mind set of not only following and sharing, but also public broadcasting of that information to all of your friends and people who you believe have common tastes and interests.

But what if "like" could simply mean "alike"? What about the flip side of the popularity contest? Once again we ask, what if you simply took the stuff and the system allowed you to become aware and gain access to more stuff like it? And what could this system look like?

One of the behavior patterns that is beginning to become really clear is that when people experience something in print, they tend to do it in order, meaning from beginning to end, while online, everyone tends to jump around, preferring an a la carte experience. It makes sense then, that eventually, as we have predicted, the best presentation of online media would be in a very two dimensional space, where jumping around is seamless. What we also would like to predict, is that while it has been lots of fun having a bunch of public profiles, eventually, there will be an turn towards privacy surrounding our personal tastes, boundries between enjoying things and wanting to follow certain things and having to broadcast those tastes to the world. We are all part of many communities, real world as well as online, so lets talk about a system where you don't have to be.

Speaking with Kevin Pomplun, Founder and CEO of Skygrid, about how his system differs from the systems built around the community element of its users, he says,

I think that with many systems today you have to PUSH your profile out into those systems in order to participate in them; with Skygrid you can PULL in whatever you want. So if you want to follow a designer or follow a world event you don't have to "like" that and announce it to all of your friends. You can just follow and get updates as you want and you can do it all privately. You can share if you want, but there is no registration, no profile. You just simply choose. And whatever you tap you are instantly following.

The way we look at privacy, is that the most open societies in the world are democracies, but what is interesting is that one of the fundamental principals of democracy is privacy. That's what enables elections to happen, you don't have to broadcast to everyone who you voted for, you don't have to tell everybody what your stance is on various causes and so on, so I think there is sort of a fascinating dynamic with Skygrid, where you are able to maintain that privacy and engage in those interests you like. And at the same time you can take something that you wanted to be private and make it public, share it with a friend , but you are completely in control. You don't by default have to be public ...you can start private and make what you want public, which I think is actually how most things operate in real life.

In this way, it even becomes possible to have an entirely private online content experience, without ever having to search and without having to constantly participate. What if you just wanted to be anonymously in the audience and not have to participate? This is a system that does the work, that does the searching for you, in an instantaneous and relevant fashion, like turning on the television and watching the game, in real time, as new content appears online. And no one has to be alerted to the fact that you might have changed the channel to watch a few minutes of your secret favorite reality show.

You don't have to wear a tee shirt that lists your ten most private things and everybody reads those and that's how you introduce yourself. I think that has limitations to how people interact and would make people uncomfortable. I think Skygrid just gives people more and more flexibility.
And as he pointed out, its always on. You don't need to know the intricacies about how it works to enjoy it.
You don't have to know about all the replication filtering and the complicated algorithmic technology stuff, it just works. And the same way that you pick up an ipod with all this beautiful software in a beautiful box and just press play and you hear music we wanted it to be the same thing. Download Skygrid and just tap "follow" and all of the sudden, you have everything important about that topic coming to you. We are passing along not just information but editorial insight as well.
So back to our first prediction, which deals with the online visual presentation or what most people call the user interface. We always hope that the peculiarities of the web would allow all of the unnecessary graphic design elements carried over from the print world to fall away and all you would be left with would be the content itself on a flat space, your screen.

Yes, level the playing field, drop all of the bells and whistles and let the stuff have to sit side by side without hierarchy, with out specific directions. Then you can decide what you like based on a comparison of the material, not based on a comparison to other people who might like the same material. That would certainly raise the bar on the quality of stuff running on the system, and in this seamless way you would have the ability to observe the total picture, still go deep and have a tether back to the original context.

We hope that Skygrid's information velocity will let people see the patterns they want in a really simple way. One tap can unlock whole new ways that people look at the world and understand life.
So our new hope is that the words "like" and "alike" take on their true meanings and that we can just sometimes stop all of the sharing, searching and working we have to be responsible for out in our real and virtual communities. Just as in real life, we have public and private lives, so too online may we have public and private experiences that we can enjoy. May we be able to have "a web of one's own."

This post first appeared on The Little Squares.