In the last post, I introduced the idea of the TweatStream app, an interface to Twitter that could help tame (and monetize) the torrent of information that floods the blogosphere every hour.  This posts talks about the implications of such an app, both for the individual and for the emergence of global consciousness.

So What’s In It for Me?

So what makes TweetStream a good value for the user?  Why would they want to use it rather than one of the other Twitter clients like Seesmic or TweetDeck? Two reasons:

  1. Quality Information – The key distinction is personalized content delivery via collaborative filtering.  The value proposition for the user is having a single, trusted place to go for up-to-the-minute news and information about what’s happening and being said across the global network that will interest them.
  1. Money – What if it is free to read anyone else’s content, and people who are ‘thought leaders’ get paid for creating and posting content that lots of people want to read?  Answer – people will strive to be the first to post the most interesting information, turning Twitter from a nice way to spend a little spare time to an indispensible resource.  The competition to be a useful source of information in order to earn money and influence people, will drive users to specialize in particular niches (e.g. mobile gadgets, iPhone apps), and seek out the latest & most interesting information to share with their followers.

Who Pays?

Where would the money come from to pay content generators? Ads – of course. A viable model could be the way CoolIris advertises now – with targeted ads interspersed among regular content. In the case of TweetStream, it would take the form of ads occasionally placed between the tweets on a users input stream. Unlike Ad.ly, where ads are associated with a particular stream (potentially denigrating the good name of the poster whose message it is attached or coming from), in this case the ads are simply inserted into the users input stream, in much the same way Google Adsense places ads alongside the content on a page.  Everyone realizes the person who created the content on the page didn’t select the specific ad being shown.

Occasional, easy to ignore targeted advertisements are the price we are willing to pay for the multitude of free Google products.

What Does This Have to Do with the Brain?

From the perspective of a neuroscientist, it is striking how the patterns of connectivity and the flow of information in on-line social networks are rapidly evolving to mirror the structure and function of an actual brain.

Twitter in particular exhibits many of the characteristics of a real network of neurons and the TweetStream idea described above simple take next logical step to extend the parallel.  In the TweetStream model, individual users are like the neurons in the Global Brain. Like real neurons, they collect information relevant to their interests/specialty via their personalized input stream. They assimilate the information, discover new connection among the stories they receive, and then propagate it downstream by putting what they find most interesting on their output stream for followers to see and react to.  This is a very close parallel to the ‘integrate and fire’ model  of neurons.

What’s It Mean for the World?

Increasing the flow of information and the efficiency by which ideas are exchanged. With increased idea exchange comes greater innovation, since according to experts on innovation:

“What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before.”

The personalized filtering of TweetStream mean every user will see a customized input stream, with previously unrelated ideas and events juxtaposed in a way that will spur innovation.

We’re seeing it already on Twitter to some degree. A plan to charge for ‘premium’ Twitter accounts in Japan, with access to special content, was quickly retracted, perhaps as a result of backlash among Twitter users over the idea.  The premium Twitter account story illustrates an important trend. Right now, much of the energy in the social network world is directed towards influencing the medium itself.  It is as if the global information network is in the process of development, and it is using the information exchange infrastructure available now to collaboratively design the next generation of social media.  The phenomena of social media is lifting itself up by its bootstraps – people are using the current social media tools to design the next generation of social media tools.

But there are signs that this is changing – social media tools are turning outward to influence a broader range of human endeavors.  For example, companies are starting to mine their customers for new product ideas via Twitter, as indicated in this article about the contribution of Twitter fans to the design of the game Modern Warfare 2:

“During development, if we are sitting in a design meeting and we are arguing about something, no matter what it is, I can just turn to what is now 60,000 people and post the same question,” Bowling told game developer news site Develop Online. “‘Do we think players will like this?’ well why don’t we ask 60,000 of them and get a good representation of what we think they may like?”

But it was the next statement that might cause gamers participating in social networking to rejoice. Bowling told site that Twitter was “fantastic throughout development” and he “would recommend many, many more people adapted that into their design schedule.”

This example seems like just the beginning. I predict that TweetStream, or something like it, will come to serve as a dominant force shaping global thought, and behavior, just as Google has come to dominate search.  The distinction between Google and the Global Brain that will emerge from TweetStream is coordination.  Google does a terrific job of serving the interests of individual, disconnected users.  If I personally want to know the capital of Hungary, or find the best price on an 8GB iPod, Google is an amazing resource. But my interactions with Google stop with me.

In contrast, through real-time collaborative information filtering and idea exchange, TweetStream will usher in a form of large scale coordination of people (and their digital agents) across geographic boundaries the likes of which the world has never seen. What may emerge is a Global Brain. It remains to be seen just what impact this emergence will have…

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