May 09, 2008

Content Filters Proving Evasive for RSS, Social Media Sites

Whether it be RSS feeds, social networks, or one of the many social media aggregation sites, it's no surprise that even your closest peers are sharing data they care about that you just don't. But so far, despite many users calling for content-based filters, solutions to block keywords or topics are missing from the vast majority of information spigots. In fact, I can't think of a single one I use that's gotten the formula right.

Not to overly repeat myself, but one of the major hopes I had for Google Reader last year was that they would add what I called "Negative Keywords", which would let me block specific posts from people I had subscribed to, be they off-topic posts on politics, family and sports, arrays of links from, or their latest cause du jour.

As the 2008 election season is heating up, it's no surprise that even the most geeky of tech news sources are starting to give some coverage to Obama vs. Clinton or Obama vs. McCain, and it will only increase over time. If I so chose, why couldn't I ask Twitter or Google Reader or FriendFeed to preemptively hide updates that included keywords like "Clinton", "Obama" or "McCain"? Today, I can't do that in any of those services, so far as I know.

Taking things further, I've also at times been tantalized by the idea of a "nuclear option" for the Web, where if I so chose, I could eradicate the mentioning of a keyword of any kind from all activity.

On Wednesday, Robert Scoble said “I wish when you blocked someone on Twitter they disappeared from Google Talk too.” Makes sense. But what if you had a button that not only blocked the person, but also, any mention of the person, from all social media services, by using their own name as the negative keyword? What if they were even automatically filtered out of Google searches, blocked just like profanity and pornography are from decency filters?

Google Reader hasn't yet debuted negative keywords. So Mahalo fans still get updates on Jason Calacanis' bulldogs and "fatblogging" and followers of this blog will still get summaries of Oakland A's games I attend. While I can always unsubscribe from somebody, there's got to be a safer middle ground in the social media and RSS space that lets me get the content I'm looking for, and not the content I'm not. Do you know of a service that's got negative keywords nailed?