Aggregating people

A number of different things have come together for me today, this post titled Is there a need for New Newsreader?, Zeldman’s post about distributed content and Kent brewster’s FOAFster which linked me off to all the things that MyBlogLog provides (a service I’ve never really looked at very closely).

FlickrFOAF

These have tied together with thoughts I’ve been having about wxVenus, and more generally about social-network-on-the-desktop type software for the past few years. It makes me think again about how I browse feeds, how I access them and when.

Since people started outsourcing their content stores to del.icio.us and Flickr, and using blogging systems to produce their content, they’ve all suddenly got feeds for this content, so should the method of navigation actually be by person, rather than blog title? Obviously this is how systems like FriendFeed work, but it doesn’t yet seem clear to me how this relationship between a person and their data is best expressed and how to best obviate much of the need to either boil the ocean (get everyone to sign up to friendfeed) or to automatically assign feeds to a person (acronyms like “RDF” and “FOAF” spring to mind but don’t seem to actually be useful in this example).

For my use-case it’s rare that I subscribe to a lot of content from a lot of people, rather I subscribe to most of the content my friends are producing, and a single source of content from some stranger on the internet whether it be their blog or Flickr photos. From where I sit, these are two fundamentally different ways of viewing data: person-centric and data-centric and I’m less and less convinced that it’s possible to model these two views in the same application, or at least expose data sources from the two views at the same time.

There seems to be a fundamental mismatch between the way we use aggregators (whether they be river of news, multi-pane windows or whatever) and the way we consume information from people we know. I have no idea what the resolution of this impedance is, but I’d really like someone to come up with a good solution sometime soon.

2 thoughts on “Aggregating people

  1. > boil the ocean (get everyone to sign up to friendfeed)

    The killer feature, for me, of frindfeed was the ability to create ‘imaginary friends’. A person you wish to follow need not have an account in order for you to view their content in the friendfeed service. You, for instance, have a friendfeed that I created.

  2. I posted something somewhat similar to this to one of my blogs, defining aggregation as “vertical” and “horizontal”, but your “person-centric” and “data-centric” are much better terms.

    As you noted in your post today about context, there seems to be a growing consensus that a combination of firehoses, as seen on Friendfeed, isn’t going to work for most people without a lot of filtering, but what doesn’t exist yet is any real idea how to do that. Phil Gyford’s offhand comment that we need secretaries may not be so far from the truth- that this might be a problem that’s not easily tackled by dumb computers.

    On the other hand, I suspect the adoption of such sites by the alpha geeks who either know how to deal with, or don’t care about, information overload isn’t helping encourage the providers to deal with it. I’d hate to think we’ll slip into a situation where sites like Friendfeed go mainstream without having to confront filtering, ranking and so on.

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