Manufacturing Taste

In a comment to my rant on naysaying, Carl Dyke posted the following link (to a Josh Ellis piece from 2003):

Mindjack – Taste Tribes

The piece itself is rather unremarkable. Although, it does contain comments about a few things which became important topics in the meantime such as recommendation systems and the importance of music listeners for individual artists. I’m not too concerned about the piece and I realize it’s “nothing new.” It mostly made me think about a number of things about which I’ve been meaning to blog.

I could react to the use of the term “tribe.” And there are obvious things to say in terms of social groups (family resemblance, community of experience, community of practice, communitas, homogamy, in-group knowledge, social network analysis, etc.).

But I guess my take is at the same time more personal and more cultural.

Contrary to what my Facebook profile may lead some people to believe, I am not a fan of anything or anyone. I’m not saying that I don’t like things or people. I do. In fact, I pretty much like everyone. But fandom isn’t my thing. Neither is fanboyism. So I don’t relate so well to Ellis’s description of networks based on appreciation of a band. Sure, in the past, I’ve participated in similar groups, such as online discussions about one of my favorite tv shows (which still has a fairly active online fanbase). And I did join several Facebook groups about things or people I like. But my personal attitude makes me react rather negatively to fanclubs and the kind of “taste-based community” Ellis so regrettably called “taste tribes.”

Nobody’s fault but my own. I just feel these groups tend to be too restrictive, too inward-looking and, well, too opinion-based.

I’m too much of a social butterfly to spend much time in any one of these groups. My engagement to a group of people can run deeply and my allegiance and faithfulness are sometimes rather strong. But I don’t like to restrict myself to certain groups.

Maybe I’m an “alpha socialiser” after all.

The cultural dimension also seems quite important to me, but it’s harder to explain without giving off the wrong signals. Not only do I react to what I perceive to be abuses of “pop culture references” (in part because I find them exclusionary), but I perceive a kind of culturally significant attachment to individual “cultural items” (“media,” as Ellis seems to call them) in “English-speaking North American popular culture.” I’m not saying that this tendency doesn’t exist in any other context. In fact, it’s likely a dimension of any “popular culture.” But this tendency is quite foreign to me. The fact that I conceive of myself as an outside observer to popular culture makes me associate the tendency with the common habits shared by a group I’m not a member of.

I’m sure I’ll post again about this. But my guess is that somewhat shorter blog entries encourage more discussion. Given the increasing number of comments I’m getting, it might be cool to tap my readership’s insight a bit more. One thing I’ve often noticed is that my more knee-jerk posts are often more effective.

So here goes.


Is Search Broken? Some Mahalo Insight

Interesting Scoblevision video about “human-powered search” firm Mahalo.
Part I of Inside Mahalo, the Human Produced Search Engine | FastCompany.TV
An interesting section (at about 13 minutes) is with Eric Stephens, who’s “director of user experiences” for Mahalo. In the Mahalo “lab,” Stephens does something very close to an open-ended interview. Don’t know if Stephens has a background in ethnography but his methods are pretty ethnographic. In fact, those methods are even closer to what is done in British ethnography these days than to typical North American ethnography. Maybe just a coincidence but, in my mind, a good point for Mahalo as a company.

Most of the interview focuses on Jason Calacanis, Mahalo’s founder and CEO.
To be honest, Mahalo and Calacanis are kind of growing on me. One set of reasons has to do with JaCal’s most recent TWiT contributions and Véronique Belmont‘s role in the startup. Doesn’t sound very rational but at least I acknowledge these biases.

There’s another side to my enhanced appreciation for Mahalo and Calacanis, and this side is more rational. I recently got this strange feeling recently that search was broken. I began to notice that my Google or Yahoo searches weren’t as effective as before. After blaming myself, I came to a conclusion which resonates with what Calacanis is saying here. The need for more and more reformulation of queries (with more and more words), SEO/result-spam, information overload, etc. One outcome of this “search is broken” feeling is that I spend more time going directly to a Wikipedia page by typing the URL directly instead of trying a search. Another is that I’m progressively giving Mahalo a chance.
Though I haven’t really integrated Mahalo in my routine yet, I do feel a bit like I felt when I first saw a beta version of Google.
Did I drink the Kool-Aid? Maybe a few sips.

Another point I can connect with: the blogging community as peanut gallery. Of course, some people talk about reactions to the Lacy/Zuckerberg interview as displaying mob mentality. But there’s more to it than that. In the aforementioned video, Calacanis talks about ignoring bloggers because they don’t represent the core user group for his company’s main product. Even though I blog quite frequently and now consider blogging a part of my identity, I can’t help but agree with Calacanis on this. In fact, some of that sentiment was behind my “geek niche” post just before SXSWi. Sure, bloggers and other ‘Net-savvy people are fascinating and influential in the context of online services. But they (we) still tend to represent a small proportion of the global population. Because of idealism and sociocentrism, several people would probably argue that despite clustering effect and limited demography, bloggers and geeks are “winning.” But social Darwinism has no place in this scenario.