Shared Interest Networks Help Us Work on the Web

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The outpouring of sympathetic responses to my piece yesterday on The Fall of Google+ got me thinking about why people care about this network so much. The people that knew Google+ in its glory days tend to wax on about what a great place it once was. As I noted in that article, a lot of it had to do with the fact that Google+ represented a nice, friendly place to connect around shared interests.

People and Objects

Objects and others.

The world wide web is a big place, a cyberspace where dimensions are measured in a matrix of math and meaning. While machines focus on the math, we humans tend to focus on the meaning.

That meaning tends to break down into an interest in objects and others. Objects are things to help us do stuff. Others are a special category of objects with subjective experience. For the purpose of this article, let’s just think of them as people.

We tune in to objects and people to help us make sense of our world. You could say that we take interest in them. Hundreds of millions of years of genetic programming support this attentional behavior and so it’s natural that we bring this with us into our new home on the web.

People and Objects on the Web

In the early stages of the web’s development, we didn’t really have a good way of keeping track of the social connections that were once so easy in the old days when we lived in much smaller groupings. Web 2.0 solved that added web complexity with the “social graph,” a special kind of database for representing our connections with other people. Facebook made a killing by taking the social graph mainstream.

Some things I care about.

What about our connection to all those objects that aren’t people? Again, in the old days, most of us didn’t have to worry about keeping track of our things because they were usually just right there in front of us. But on the vast web, we need tricks for tracking things we care about. One example is just-in-time searches for whatever object we want to bring to our attention. Another is subscribing to news feeds about our interests so they come to us instead. Unlike our social graph, which we can easily see by simply looking at our list of friends and followers, our “interest graphs” — which map our connection to ideas and things — are harder to find because they are deduced algorithmically from our interactions online and stored in vast data centers at Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

The Tasks and Relationships of Work

It’s a balance.

Work is really just us coming together with others to work on objects. Those objects might be ideas or they might be physical things. We work with others in tasks that revolve around these objects. We engage with people through our relationships and engage with objects through tasks. In this sense, work is a dance of tasks and relationships.

We can also see this dance through the lens of the interest graph and the social graph. We didn’t need anything quite so fancy when all we did was work on a widget next to someone on an assembly line. But in the disorienting reaches of cyberspace, we need ways of finding people who share our interests in working on given tasks and objects. On the web, work is increasingly the weaving together of the social graph and the interest graph into something called a “shared interest graph.”

Interests as Banners

In the years ahead, we will increasingly use the web to find and build relationships with people who share our interests. Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn was brilliant in this respect. As the gig economy and modularization of work grow over time, networks like this will function much like the internal email directories that helped to integrate corporations in the ’80s and ’90s.

As a “shared interest network,” Google+ filled a similar role by enabling strangers to come together around shared interests. Together, we built a shared interest graph aimed at very large-scale information curation. People like me took that work very seriously, functioning as a kind of “information networker,” focused on weaving together the interest graph and the social graph as a way to help structure information in this vast virtual world of objects and others.

3 comments

  1. Useful thoughts on this, and I agree that the Interest Graph problem remains unsolved. Twitter Lists are partially providing a however clunky-workaround for me, but that use is nowhere near ready for use by “normals”.

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