The many layers of collaborative filtering – news and entertainment comes to us

By Ross Dawson on March 30, 2008 | Permalink

For the last ten years I have believed that collaborative filtering will be one of the most fundamental platforms for business and society. In a world of massively increasing information overload, the only way we will cope is to collaborate to filter what will be most relevant to us. Early this decade I was finding myself very surprised by how slow progress had been over the last five years, despite some interesting research and initiatives. However the last five years on the Internet could almost be characterized as the rise of collaborative filtering. Our Web 2.0 Framework is in a sense a description of how we collectively filter information. Almost all the significant developments on the web I would interpret as related to this evolution of collaborative filtering.
An article out a few days ago in the New York Times titled Finding Political News Online, The Young Pass It On described how young people share political news they are interested in by email and on social networks. In the same way, many young people primarily read articles that has found them in this way. In short:

“..they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter — reading The Washington Post, clicking on — with a social one.”

We now have many sites that structure links, ratings, insights, and comments, such as Digg, Techmeme, Google Reader Sharing, and so on. However much of this collaborative filtering happens at a very personal and immediate level, in which people send links to people they know would be interested, or make them visible to those in their social networks.
Mathew Ingram drew out a quote in the article, “If the news is important, it will find me,” and others including Mark Cuban have picked up on this as a fundamental insight into how news is consumed today. Indeed, while we may look to collaborative filtering functionality (which is increasingly embedded in mainstream media in any case), we don’t expect to miss out on things if we don’t look for them. If we are connected enough with our peers, then people will know what we’re interested in, and point us to the things we would want to know about.
I certainly think that the collaborative filtering functionality of news sites will rapidly grow. In addition, social networks will get better at providing highly personalized news suggestions to us, by drawing on what our friends find interesting. At the same time, we will continue to let our friends know about things we know they would want to see. Years back when I was introducing people to the concept of collaborative filtering, I pointed out that it was hardly new. Whenever we recommend a restaurant, book, or film to a friend, we are collaborating to filter the mass of possibilities available to us. It is just that it is so much easier to do that today, meaning that the news (and the entertainment we love) will come to us.