Most of the recent Web-related news—Yahoo's acquisition of Delicious, Jeff Bezos' Alexa search engine opening up its APIs (See John Battelle: Alexa [Make that Amazon] Looks to Change the Game), the launch of Seth Godin's Squidoo, the many bookmarking services (ClipMarks, Looklater), the many blog networks (9Rules Network, Technorati)—all have one theme in common: making sense of it all.
With the rise of sense-making tools, it's not surprising, given that we all (increasingly) need to do five things:
1. Make sense out of what's going on and what's out there to discover
2. Spot new emergent things of interest
3. Solve problems
4. Spot opportunities
5. Connect with people and other resources
So, it's not surprising that what's going on in Web 2.0-land these days is all about making sense of it all.
What's interesting and challenging is that many people seem to be doing all five of these things in parallel and publicly, using all the new tagging and linking tools. It's a wonderful combination of Bo Peabody's (Founder of Tripod), axiom: "Let Customers Strut their Stuff" and public sense-making in action. I make sense of my world, and you make sense of your worlds, and we are all doing our sense-making, pattern matching, and "Aha's" in a shared or shareable public space, other like-minded people can lurk and learn, they can add value through their own lenses, they can offer whacks on the side of the head, and they can pile on and build on the collective insights, links, and knowledge being created.
For example, here's my dream: As I draft the content for my next book on Customer Innovation, I am doing a ton of research. I have a bibliography of books—some read, some to be read. I have links to many Web sites—some I've researched, some look interesting but I haven't gotten to them yet. I have metatagged many of the best ideas I've come across in blogs so that I can easily find them again. I'm creating a set of links to imagery that helps illustrate my points. I want to find every example of Customer Innovation on the planet, understand it, and catalog it—make sense of it. And, in order to do that, I need to do it publicly so that as many smart people as possible can participate. This Customer Innovation pattern- and best practices-detection is my project. But it's one that I'm happy with and am hoping to recruit others to join. (To prime the pump, I'm running a contest and offering awards; see the description below). So I need a sense-making space/set of tools that lets me do all of what I've described and more. Those tools need to be the same tools that you're already using. I can't expect you to learn a new way of interacting in order to contribute.
CREATING AND SHARING A LENS. I was hoping that Seth Godin's Squidoo might provide that set of tools. And it's close, but it's not there yet. Squidoo lets you create a Lens—an orderly set of ideas and filters through which any expert—Squidoo's motto: "Everyone's an Expert on Something"—can share their filter/expertise with the rest of the world. Unlike a topic-specific blog, Squidoo Lenses tend to be more ordered. Instead of reading the most recent post first, as in a blog, you see a more orderly set of information—typically categorized in a "What is this? Why is it important? How do I do this?"—kind of way. Squidoo's business model is one of monetizing eyeballs—for Squidoo and for Lens creators. While you're sharing your expertise and your project with the world, you can monetize eyeballs through AdSense, Amazon purchases, and other affiliate programs. Unfortunately, it seems to be a place for shameless self-promotion rather than a knowledge creation/knowledge sharing space. Time will tell. Here are some things I like about Squidoo:
- It's easy to create a Lens without being a techie
- The environment is graphically pleasing
- It pushes you to create content that is well-ordered/organized into modules that help people learn/get interested quickly
- It encourages best practices in information architecture and design
- Oh, and you create advertising revenues (eventually) while you're at it.
However, it is, above all, a place for gurus and wannabe gurus to strut their stuff. It's not really a place for people to pile on/add comments, although they can and do appear to link to one another.
SOCIAL NETWORKING AND TAGGING. Tagging is huge! It's probably the most important sense-making activity to come down the pike. Tagging gives social networks a raison d'etre. When you create your own metatags, you're making sense out of the chaos. Whether you're tagging your or others' photos on Flickr or tagging blog posts using Del.icio.us, or tagging video clips on Grouper, you're doing three things in parallel: making sense out of chaos, connecting with others (by sharing your tags, adopting their tags), and you’re setting yourself up to spot new emergent things of interest and new opportunities—you can usually subscribe to all future things that turn up with the same tags. It gives you a way to pre-filter the chaos that hasn't happened yet. Of course, as you learn more, you make new distinctions, refining your tags. So does everyone else.
What's challenging and exciting at the same time is that we can now set filters into the future to track the unknowable. Sure, we can subscribe to be alerted to news events that haven't happened yet, filtered by reporters we trust. We can subscribe to content that hasn't yet been written by people whose insights we trust. We can subscribe to music that hasn't yet been composed from people whose music we like. But, what's really new is that we can now also subscribe to patterns, topics, and changing filters from other smart people. Is it productive? Yes, if like me, you're trying to make sense out of an ever-changing world. Can it be a time sink? Absolutely. Luckily, there are lots of folks who seem to have nothing better to do than to contribute their sense-making to the greater good of all! Are we creating value? Yes. Because we're weaving a Noosphere of meaning and patterns that lets us share knowledge, insights, jokes, images, and stories at hyperspeed. Can that value be monetized? Apparently, through ads and links to related merchandise—marketing in context.
Originally published to our research service on 12/15/05.