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What’s the Story of Your Life?

In the recent post Who Is Your Information Filter?, I noted that individuals are emerging as leaders in the distribution of information. These Information Filters have good judgment as to what their subscribers like.

But there is certainly more to the being a good filter. Here’s an example of what I mean. Dare Obasanjo wrote a post titled Giving Sh*t Away is not a Business Strategy. Eric Rice and I both shared the post on July 12. Check out the results on FriendFeed:

The Likes and comments on Eric’s share included some folks who are subscribed to me.

This is the sort of thing that I love to explore. What makes people respond to the sharing of identical content from one person, but not another?

Interactions and relationships are an important part. Robert Scoble made this point in a comment on FriendFeed.

There’s an additional factor as well. Here’s one way to describe it:

  1. Experience and passions make up your narrative, the story of your life.
  2. A narrative gives context.
  3. Context loads the information you share with meaning.
  4. Meaning draws interest by others.

This takes a little explaining.

A Lesson in Mark Rothko’s Paintings

Mark Rothko was an abstract painter, famous for paintings of rectangles (multiforms) with different colors. His life shared the drama that seems to mark many great artists. He was Jewish, and saw the persecution of Jews in Czarist Russia. His family emigrated to the United states. He was highly intelligent, rapidly advancing through school and receiving a scholarship to Yale. He divorced twice. He drank heavily. He ultimately committed suicide.

And yet he was pivotal in the abstract movement of the mid-1900s. He hated being called an “abstract artist”, but he was leader in the genre. His is a rich history of art, intellect and  experimentation.

Growing up, I’d see art like his and think, “I could paint that. What’s so special about that painting?” Typical punk kid.

But to that point, I went ahead and tried my hand at painting in the Rothko style. Below are a painting by Mark Rothko, and one by my own hand:

This was my first painting effort since middle school. Please pardon the brush strokes.

With practice, I could get the hang of the brush strokes. With time, I bet I could replicate Mark Rothko’s style pretty well.

Which would make me a hell of an abstract painter, right?

Obviously, the answer is no. Even if I could duplicate the style, no one would care. Why? I don’t have a narrative to back it up. I didn’t come up with the style, I wasn’t a participant in the abstract movement, I’m not a student of art or of Rothko, I’m not a painter.

The silly adolescent that I was didn’t want to understand that. And yet understanding the importance of Rothko’s narrative imbues his paintings so much meaning.

There is a lesson here in terms of people who shine as Information Filters.

The Information You Share Fits a Larger Narrative

The context surrounding a piece of content is an important, underestimated component of what makes it valuable to an audience. If Thomas Hawk and I were to favorite the same photo on Zooomr, I suspect Thomas’s favorite would garner more Likes and comments on FriendFeed than would mine. Which makes all the sense in the world.

Thomas is a professional photographer, shooting photos for magazines and other media. He regularly blogs about issues affecting photography. He’s the CEO of a photo sharing site. When he shares a photo, you know he “gets” a wide range of attributes for that photo:

  • Lighting
  • Subject matter
  • Angle
  • Lens
  • Dimensions
  • Etc.

Me? I’m just a dude who likes a picture. The pictures I share lack a larger narrative.

Curious about this, I took a look at my Google Reader shares on FriendFeed. Here are five that received the most attention (excluding my own blog post shares), and five with no Likes or comments:

My online narrative is really defined by this blog. So the lists above don’t surprise me. The five that fit my narrative are consistent with blogging, information consumption and distribution, and enterprise 2.0. The five that don’t fit my narrative reflect themes I generally don’t hit on here: online advertising, acquisitions, SAAS and the environment.

Does that mean I should stop sharing them? Hell no! But it does show that the people who subscribe to me have particular interests, consistent with my narrative.

Attention Paid to A-Listers: It’s Not Just Hero Worship

I do think there’s an important point to be made. Sometimes people get exasperated that something they’ve blogged about or posted didn’t get a lot of traction, while an A-Lister talks about the same thing and everyone falls over themselves to Like, comment, share the content, etc. This is generally ascribed to an overly worshipful flock. I’m sure there’s a bit of truth in that.

However, I think an overlooked element is that a lot of the well-known figures out on the web have a strong narrative.

When they share something, it’s really part of the larger narrative they’ve been sharing with a lot of people over time.

What’s Your Story?

I bring up A-Listers because its a familiar meme. But there are regular people who have a particularly strong narrative in a subject area. You see people reacting to the content they share, because it fits what they’re about.

Strong narratives make people strong Information Filters.

How about you? What’s the story of your life?

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

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