I’m a geek, and proud of it. Being a middle-aged geek meant I was a geek when it was terribly unpopular to be one in high school, and only the serious geeks need apply, and only the strong survived without lifelong scars (although finding high paying tech jobs did ease the pain a little :-).

And, of course, now being a geek is just fun.

But, back then, no dances, no parties. A geeky introvert until I hit my 30’s. But, along with all that came a distaste for popularity. A secret desire of how cool it might be to be popular, but since it wasn’t going to happen, the pragmatic teenage way of dealing with it was to paint popular people as stupid and shallow (and, now the stepfather of a popular 17 year old, I realize I wasn’t entirely wrong, although those are traits required to be in the club, not necessarily natural to the individual’s personality).

OK, before you all start crying about how tough it was to be a teenager, snap out of it, you misfits…

I was thinking about popularity again. I’ve been hip deep in playing with social networking kinds of things for the last year or so, it totally facinates me from both a socialogical, technical, and in the future, a “how are we going to identify and secure all this data about everything” point of view. As an old usenet poster, I’m all too aware of how what I thought were just fun ways to learn to debate and find out how to get people to react in certain ways, is now stored and available at an instant. Kindof like blog postings. I’m more careful these days!

Being on usenet since the early days, and on the Well when it started, and various special-interest mailing lists, and now online forums, I’ve always participated in some way in online “socialization”. Stayed away from myspace, once it became a teenager hangout, but do participate in Podshow, have played around in Second Life. I always end up leaving stuff lying around, or otherwise forgetting some bit of etiquette. Sometimes think I can only handle being a model citizen in one life at a time.

So, back to popularity. I was explaining to someone how to use “social bookmarking” to simply keyword-tag hundreds of bookmarks, and stop worrying about how to file them. Now, I don’t wholly subscribe to that model, there’s a really good place for filing systems, and I actually end up using both. Flock’s lack of a bookmark folder hierarchy still bugs me. As I explained the “social” part of del.icio.us and shadows, I had to point out that with this view, you see how many bookmarks you have with that tag, and the “cloud” views made it easy to see which keywords were really popular, like in Flickr. Then, the question popped into my mind “what if what I wanted was really obscure, and only tagged by 2 people, with different keywords?” Well, I’d never find it, that’s what.

The same with things like popurls, which I go to once a day or so.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany, that social networking has a potential we must not let it achieve. That is to make only that which is popular, easily available. Once only the popular stuff is returned first on search engines, the one item you want is going to be on page 600 of that Google search. Anything of interest in pre-Columbian ear wax art will be hard to find, with what will become the next level of tools for finding information. Granted, the “what’s popular” thing is why we have so much reality TV (they’ll watch it, and it’s really cheap to make too!), or movies with way more style than substance, or disposable music. It’s popular. But, we need to keep our eye on keeping the Internet as an equalizer, where early ear wax art can still have a home, along with Britney Spears c-section scars.

Now, naturally, the whole “how many friends do you have” bit of social networking sites is closely related to the same thing we went through as teenagers. Although in this case, you don’t actually have to be athletic, or good looking, or funny, or dangerous, or outgoing in front of people to be popular. You just need a cute picture, and time to invite lots of other people, and maybe occasionally some content worth sharing. TaDa! You’re popular. But I’ve always pushed that off as an extention of teenager popularity, and as such, interesting for media-related things like “popular podcasts”, and “popular music”. It has it’s place, but it isn’t the only place.

This need for thinking differently about popular things was reinforced to me today when I came across NewsTrust http://beta.newstrust.net not surprisingly when I stopped by popurls to see what’s new on Digg! The idea of rating news stories not based on what’s popular, but what’s trustworthy. Humm, interesting take.

So, that’s it. Nothing particularly insightful, just a realization that popularity isn’t exactly the best method to find that old bookmark I wanted. I just need a far better way of assembling queries, and auto-tagging, and, yes, filing things in categories and subcategories. If it’s good enough for the LIbrary of Congress to keep track of all it’s artifacts, we shouldn’t just treat it as “obsolete technology”.

Oh, and I want to make sure that my photographs I’m backing up on S3 are highly encrypted and secure, but that’s for a future entry.

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