Saturday, February 12, 2005

Implicit vs. explicit sharing

Ross Mayfield (CEO, Socialtext) slams personalization in favor of social software:
    The basic problem with Personalization is that tailoring information to you limits social discovery. Users contribute value to the database only for them and the service provider, not for each other ... Nowhere in this mode is sharing, conversations, remixing and socializing information.

    By contrast, consider how social software enables people to create their own networks. Groups form, information is shared and implicit and explicit relationships are fostered.
Ross asserts that personalization limits social discovery and doesn't allow users to share data with each other. That's false.

Personalization relies on the strength of the community. It is the shared data between users that allows the system to find relationships and make recommendations.

But there is one major difference. With personalization, sharing is implicit and anonymous. With social software, sharing is explicit and public.

There are two problems with explicit sharing:
  1. It requires work. A lot of work. People don't like to do work.
  2. The quality of recommendations is low. Why? Chris Anderson said it best: "No matter who you are, someone you don't know has found the coolest stuff." Limiting discovery to what your friends have found cripples the system.
Ross partially acknowledges these issues at the end of his article:
    The appeal of personalization is sheer convenience. Today social software fails, with a few exceptions, to deliver the same level of convenience at scale, but give it time.
Unfortunately, Ross, it's not just a matter of time. Most people want something that requires no effort and just works. Social software can't deliver that.


Ross said...

Fortunately people want both personalization and socialization

Greg Linden said...

Good point, Ross. There are some tasks at which social software excels (communication and documentation come to mind). People will want social software in these areas. There are other areas where it performs poorly (filtering, discovery, recommendations).

To be fair, your article is much stronger if you intended primarily to criticize customization systems like My Yahoo, not personalization systems like, Netflix, Tivo, or Findory.

Customization systems typically do a poor job of sharing data between users and require a lot of effort. Personalization systems share data between users implicitly and require little effort to use.

Seun Osewa said...

WOuldn't it be nice if these terms could be defined first?

Greg Linden said...

That's true, Seun. Personalization is often used loosely and interchangeably with customization. That's all fine and not really the point here.

The point is that is implicit and anonymous sharing -- as done by personalization systems used by Amazon, Netflix, TiVo, Findory, and others -- has advantages over explicit sharing.