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Filters Upon Filters

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What do the recent Facebook privacy controversy, the start of the new fall tv season, and the relaunch of Mental Floss.com have in common? They're all indicators that the media term "filtering" is no longer enough. Once the practice of managing the endless flow of content and entertainment into our lives, "filtering" or at least filtering only once is now as elegant a solution to overload as tending geraniums with a fire hose.

Welcome to Filter 2.0 where we no longer just need gatekeepers to keep the charging hordes of content at bay. We now must worry about what filters work for this or that content, for when and how we'll be consuming it Does it now come in on your Blackberry, while eating blackberries or while a lover calls us "my little blackberry?" They're all in play now because filtering once doesn't address all the option. We now need middle management. We need to filter our filters.

Consider: Earlier this month, Facebook the popular social networking site for college students, got doused with protests when it introduced a news feed service that allowed members to keep track of the comings and goings of their friends on the site. From the outside, Facebook did what any social network did when a percentage of visitor become regular users logging on to keep in touch with those they already know rather than showing up to new people: Facebook made it easier to segment out the information you wanted. They added more filters.

Site members didn't see it that way. Over 90,000 of them signed petitions accusing Facebook of privacy violation. "News Feed is just too creepy, too stalker-esque," one petition read, calling the technology "a feature that has to go." Soon after, founder Mark Zuckerberg issued an apology on the site's blog.

"We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed...we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I'd like to try to correct those errors now."

Translation: You joined Facebook to filter though college students you might like to chat with, meet and share a lumpy twin bed. We thought we were helping you refine that filter but instead, we threw bad filter after good by a) not explaining what it does and b) not letting you control it. Our mistake.

Now let's take the new fall television season: This being planet earth, some critics have given it the "same pile of crap since they cancelled M*A*S*H" treatment but most point to a surfeit of good options--neat concepts, strong casts, and the networks finally catching up to the bounty of quality programming on cable. By Labor Day, I was checking the Tivo hourly for when new shows that could be season passed.

Both Entertainment Weekly and USA Today printed grids laying out this fall's offerings and on what nights they fall. Which sent me into a panic. For the first time in years, TiVo, iltering's greatest leap forward since TV Guide, wouldn't suffice. Desirable new shows premiere at the same time or overlap by a half-hour. Existing favorites must be shifted about or eliminated from Season Pass lists. Some TiVos (magical, imaginary TiVos) let you record two programs at once. Mine doesn't I bought a TiVo to keep from thinking about things like that.

My plan for the fall then: TiVo new shows. Wait for old favorites to be released on DVD. Don't TiVo shows that can be purchased on iTunes. Watch replayed shows on network websites. Poll friends to see if they are recording shows I'm not. Give new programming three episodes to impress me and then cut it from the rolls When all else fails, slip into the netherworld of pirated content and turn myself into the authorities after season finale week.

Translation: TV's no longer a One Filter Fits All proposition. Our on-demand expectations are now so high that we must attach a half-dozen filters together and use them like a swiss army knife. A more efficient system is both a holy grail and the worst nightmare for the television industry. And they know it.

Third example: Mental Floss, the brainiac periodical founded and run by former Duke University classmates Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur , relaunched its website earlier this week. Almost immediately, FARK.com made the debut an item as part of its daily clearing house of news and other webby bits of interest. Overwhelmed by traffic from Fark's readership, Mental Floss's servers crash. This embarrassment of riches called getting "farked" happens all the time. Mental Floss was back up and running within a day or s and was delighted, despite the hiccup.

Oh, what an honor to get farked at such a young age! said Pearson after the Farking. "It really is amazing that one sitecan say "Hey, check this out" and tens, even hundreds of thousands will listen."

Or maybe not. Mental Floss's is a filter down to its DNA. Pearson and Hattikudur began the project in as a way for smart people to keep learning neat stuff once they got too busy to sit in classrooms. Each issue is crammed with facts and trivia, artfully categorized for readers to (in the words of the magazine's tagline) "feel smart again." Quickly. Their recent books, "Cocktail Party Cheatsheets", "What's the Difference" and "Scatterbrained" only underscore the point. There's a lotta great stuff out there and Mental Floss filters it into usable piles.

How ironic then that the relaunch of Mental Floss.com (designed, by the way, to ease distribution of Mental Floss's vast library of content, i.e improved filtering) would be boosted, sunk, and forced into reevaluation thanks to Fark, one of the few privileged websites able to prosper as a classic filter.

Facebook sharpens its filtering by too much, television's filters haven't caught up with the desires of audiences and one filter (Mental Floss.com), makes a rough and tumble debut thanks to another (FARK). It's no longer enough to set up your filters and leave them alone. We now have to add, monitor and adjust. With any luck, this is the awkward adolescence of filtering. By graduation, let's hope Filter 3.0 has simplified to the point of near-invisibility or else point us directly to always in fashion reverse filter, the reset button.