Filtering Information by Social Distance

Building on earlier experiments in organising information sources based on degree of social connection.

I was delighted to be tweeted by Ton Zijlstra, an old blogging contact from the Triassic era of blogs…

(2023-07-11 - Tweet reference deleted as Ton has now deleted his twitter account)

Thanks to Ton’s little prompt I realise I remember Blogwalk IV, and reading back over the posts here and elsewhere I’m struck by how much is still relevant 15 years later - but that’s for another post (as is an update on IndieWeb).

A different approach to organising web feeds

Inevitably following links to revisit Ton’s blog I found Feed reading by Social Distance

  • There is no way you can take in all available information, there’s simply too much, it’s always been that way. Internet amped up the volume of course. […]
  • Filtering also needs attention as it is a key part of what information you share and propagate yourself […]
  • My filtering is not a stand alone thing in isolation, it is part of a network of filters, yours, mine, and other people’s […]
  • Who you are as a person is an essential piece of context in how to judge information. […] So what I know socially about you helps me interpret what you share, as it will be coloured by who you are. Let’s call this social filtering. […]
  • I follow people, not sources […]
  • I order the feeds I follow in folders roughly by social distance

Which has obvious resonances with Harold Jarche’s Seek Sense Share and also Luis Suarez’s approach to Twitter filtering I mentioned here and here.

Looking back at similar ideas with Twitter

Looking back at the earlier Twitter-based idea, I slipped back fairly quickly. Although I still have the original lists I set up, I don’t garden them very often, and I’ve followed a lot more new people than I unfollowed as part of the experiment. Thinking about why that might be:

  • generally my PKM practice is over-biased to “Seek” vs “Sense” and “Share”
  • The signal-to-noise of Twitter gets worse (and yes that should push towards using some filtering, but in practice means it becomes less attractive as a PKM tool)
  • Brexit - not only a VAST source of the increased noise, but sadly I find myself glued to Twitter in a less and less useful way
  • I found that the lists were rapidly becoming echo chambers

Moving beyond Twitter

I still use web feeds as a major source, although mine are in Feedly. Although Feedly is a closed garden these days (they used to make public feeds possible), the affordances of the product work well for me, in particular the mobile client. I do most of my feed catchup on buses or when otherwise waiting, with IFTTT processes set up to route things of interest for later exploration.

Feed gardening, like Twitter list gardening, is very much in the category of “things I know I should do more of”. Feedly currently reports that I have 708 sources of which 277 are inactive and 81 unreachable.

Like Twitter, I find my use of feedreaders is quite hybrid. There are sources that I follow for specific information that can be applied in my working life (usually corporate) which wouldn’t fit into the social distance categorisation. Then there are the feeds which might be applicable to day-to-day work, or might well be more related to broader ideas that interest me - these may well fit into the social distance model if I wanted to use it, although given the rather wide range of things I find interesting, some kind of topic-based organisation seems likely too.

Dealing with Echo Chambers

Echo chambers are present everywhere, including online.

As an example, the #ListGate meme from summer 2019 exposed the cliqueish thinking amongst a significant number of popular educational tweeters / bloggers, expertly dissected by (amongst others) DaN McKee in this thread.

Ton addresses the issue of echo chambers thus:

When social distance and social filtering are key elements in filtering information, preventing echo chambers is a key concern. This translates into purposefully seeking out divergence and diversity in your network. All your favourite enemies need to be in your information filter as well. And you need to extend your network periodically, while monitoring its health in terms of variety.

It’s a sound approach if you are seeking to use social media or web feeds for any kind of knowledge source. I think however that in current times this called for a balanced strategy. In terms of the main timeline, and the vast amounts of gaslighting, bots, trolls and shills then robust blocking and unfollowing is almost essential. I think this supports using lists etc for the more professional aspects of platform use in order to balance.

Would I use this approach more?

The gist of the idea makes sense to me - social constructivism is a key facet of PKM.

The hybrid approach, as I mention for both Twitter and web feeds essential. I use both of these sources for more than one thing, so it make sense that I should apply more than one technique to using them.

Practically, will I do the work? I could see it happening slowly, provided I’m pragmatic about what I expect to get from it. And the hybrid approach means there is no success or failure, only more or less personal utility, which makes this much lower stakes…

Proactive application of technology to business

My interests include technology, personal knowledge management, social change