If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product

I was a very avid user of del.ic.io.us. I would spend hours (which I should have spent dong other things) adding things to my delicious, reading through my friends’ deliciouses, hoping someone else interesting I knew would join. I had thousands of bookmarks–I read and re-read things I’d saved; poured over the things my friends added and raved about the service to everyone I knew.

Then someone–Yahoo? I don’t remember bought it–and killed it. It came back, eventually, but every one I knew was gone. I never found anything fascinating trawling through the tags and bookmarks of the myriad strangers on the service. Too much noise; not enough signal that sang to me.

pinterestWhen pinterest came around, it was finally the replacement for del.ic.io.us I had been missing. I know, that’s not what it was marketed as. I know, that’s not how most people use it. But that’s how I used it. That’s the need it fulfilled for me: a great way to index and save all the fabulous things and interesting writings and strange beauty I found on the internet. That my friends used it too added to the utility and, frankly, joy of using it.

There were odd insights into the habits of people I did not know as well as I’d like. The camaraderie of seeing someone else had pinned the same thing–the validation of being re-pinned, as well as the bonhomie of re-pinning. I also loved the incidental ambient awareness of someone’s mood when she suddenly added a dozen pins of vacation memories or several special dietary need recipes or a bunch of projects for her new house.

From time to time, I’d search on something, or page through a category. I rarely, if ever, found anything interesting. Now and then, I’d find a board curated by a blogger I read or a friend I did not know was on the service, and I’d happily follow it or re-pin from it. But the cold-call pins from people I did not know–or entities I was not already engaged with? These were all noise. Some irritating (cute ideas for my bachelorette party/baby shower/nail art); some offensive (thinspiration, “hot chicks” on bicycles), but most just Not Relevant to My Interests.

Only now all that noise, all that irrelevant information, all that glurge or hostility, is in my feed with “related pins” chosen from some inaccurate algorithm and crowding out the quiet voices of my friends.

For example, I pinned a single cycling jersey to my Christmas List. One day, my feed was four or five dozen pins from strangers, each a picture of some other product (mostly mens, although some for kids–Please note, I am not a man and I do not have kids) from the company. Because the company is called “Fox”–there was a liberal sprinkling of half-naked women in the feed too. I could not find my own stuff, much less that of my friends.

It’s frustrating, living in the modern internet/app/cloud age. I highly value having a social bookmarking system. I would pay for it (my friends might not, then I’d lose the social aspect of it, I suppose, but I’d still have the utility of saving and sharing my own stuff), but I’m never given that option. When it’s time monetize the service (and why shouldn’t it be?), it’s always ads and product placement and noise, which drowns the utility and kills the service.

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