Clip, Collect, and Share

When I first heard the word “remix” applied to the Web several years ago, I didn’t get it. Why would people want to remix Web pages? Remixing audio made some sense, but I didn’t grasp the enormous potential of remixing the Web.

Now, I do.

Remixing is about pulling all the stuff we stumble across, care about, and need together in new ways. It’s about letting people who are motivated by a variety of interests clip and collect ideas, products, news, entertainment, and other forms of information, then annotate and share the parts they find compelling or, as it may be, not so compelling.

New styles and forms are being invented because of the growing ease and ability to clip anything. New genres of story telling, entertainment, and news borrow from the old are evolving every day. Digg allows individuals to submit stories and comments for others to vote on to its front page. Is this a clipping service? Is it a discussion board? It’s neither, really. It borrows from many old services to create a new media form and means of expression.

And in case it’s not screamingly obvious, the Web isn’t about pages any more. In fact, the word “page” is a bit outdated. The Web is a mixture of media: text, images, animation, audio, and video blend together in a constantly evolving soup. And, the Web is applications. The browser has become an application delivery and interactive smart viewer all in one.

I spend a lot of work time these days thinking about how people will want to collect stuff on- and offline. I’m frequently asked: Do people really want to collect? Come on, folks. We’re genetically programmed to collect. Hunting and gathering was how our species survived until the emergence of agricultural practices only 12,000 years ago.

OK, so collecting has evolved a bit since our forbearers rummaged around looking for food. Today, we collect information, ideas, and things with symbolic and emotional value. We collect material goods like never before: shoes, stamps, cars, butterflies, and baseball cards. If something can be collected, somebody out there is collecting it.

Isn’t eBay simply the world’s largest collection of collectors and the things they collect? If there is anything you could possibly image people collecting, you can find it on eBay. And sites like del.icio.us demonstrate that people even have a need and desire to collect something as simple as pointers to Web sites.

Yes, most of us want and even feel a base need to collect. But “collect” has an important counterpart: “share.” We collect snippets from all over the Web and mix the things we find into topical, themed collections; the social sharing and discovery aspects of what we are doing is a fascinating and rapidly evolving area.

Ask people what they want and watch what they do, and you’ll discover an interesting dichotomy. Ask people over 30 if they want to collect and share information, and the majority will tell you they don’t like or want to share. And the older they get, the less they say they want to share. But what they do doesn’t map to what they tell you.

People are information hunter-gatherers. And they hunt readily through search engines. But they express reservations about sharing when asked. Why? Maybe because there isn’t a form yet they’re comfortable with. “Share” doesn’t accurately capture what people want to do. The real need is to discover and communicate entertainment and knowledge about projects and topics important to us.

The popularity of photo- and video-sharing services also point to the need and desire we have to share. Yet email is still the killer app and tool of choice for collecting and sharing. We share every day using email for communication and collaboration, even though it was never designed for the information hunter-gatherers. Using email to share is an endless exercise of copy and paste. Wikis and blogs have also become tools of choice for creating more persistent modes of sharing, but they don’t support the hunting-gathering function very well.

When asked, many will say they don’t want to share. When observed, people share like crazy. When asked, they don’t necessarily see a need to collect. Given tools to collect, many people exhibit addictive collecting behavior.

If the explosive growth of blogs has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a strong, pent-up need to share ideas, from the advanced to the mundane. The emergence of easy-to-use means of remixing anything will have a big effect on the information’s life in the Web sphere. Prepare for product information, entertainment, news, and personal perspectives to take on more of a life of their own after they’re published, as clip, collect, and share becomes a part of every user’s modus operandi.

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