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December 20, 2010 / Jon M

What is Flote?

Flote isn’t a thing as much as it is a purpose or a way of thinking. Flote is my way of offering others the chance to collaborate on a perpetual, living document that helps to make sense of the information and discussion that is readily found on the Internet.

I’ve put a lot of thought into the direction that the Internet has been taking during the last ten years, and while there is no doubt in my mind that all of this new development in different technologies is great, it just seems like there isn’t much of a purpose driving it all. For example, we spend hours on Facebook, but what are we really accomplishing? Sure, we’re staying connected with friends, but how do we move farther beyond just “chatting’ or catching up?

Before the Internet really took off, people could only communicate by calling each other on the phone, writing, or visit in person. Back then, it wouldn’t have made sense to call someone up just so you’d be on the phone with them in case something happened. Yet, that’s basically what we do with Facebook..we either obsess over our friends’ most minute details, or we write about the most trivial aspects of our own life. With the phone, whatever you said was lost forever (unless you were being recorded), but with Facebook and other networks, your words are saved forever.

I’m not saying that all of this is bad, necessarily. What I am saying is that we should stop playing around with social media and try to apply it towards a bigger purpose.

Do Something

It’s quite a production when we visit our in-law’s house. We pack enough clothes for three or four days, load up the van, make sure that the kids are entertained during the two hour drive to the Thumb, and usually make a couple of stops to deal with a car sick cat. It’s always a huge relief when we finally pull into my in-law’s driveway.

I like visiting because when there’s downtime I get the chance to unwind a little bit and do the things I usually can’t do when I’m soley responsible for taking care of the kids. But, our stay goes a little better when there are activities we can participate in together. During Marlette’s Country Fair Days festival, for example, there are garage sales and a parade to attend.

I believe that social media should work in the same way: It’s nice to visit with your friends and family online, but perhaps it would be nicer if you were doing something with them, and the best activity might be the type that allows you to produce something. This something might be a family website or a photo slideshow.

So, perhaps our statuses should focus more on what we want to “do today” than on what we’re thinking, and then our friends could respond by offering to collaborate.

Let others Watch

So, the other thing you should remember if you do collaborate on a project with your online friends is that you shouldn’t be shy about it. Let your audience use online tools to view your progress in real time. Everyone has a tendency to hold back on their work until they’ve polished the very final draft, but in this context its fine to reveal your work before it could be deemed as “perfect.” In fact, it is easier for your audience to offer words of wisdom or advice when your work is still incomplete.

This reminds me of the last time I ordered a sub from Subway. Every time I go through the line there, I am able to guide the creation of my sub from the flavor of the bun, to the meat, right down to the quantity of toppings that are added. Compare this open approach to the methods used at restaurants such as Burger King and McDonald’s, where you have far less control over how your hamburger is made. Certainly, I’d much rather be behind the counter at Burger King if I made a mistake than standing directly in front of the customer. But, if we adopt the idea of openness, Subway’s model is the one to follow.

Set a cycle

The flow of content that we’re seeing on the Internet today is not a new thing. There was an over abundance even back when TV and print were the only source for information. But, these industries follow a publishing cycle which was limited by capacity (number of pages, words, or minutes) and time (morning edition, evening edition). So, the content was controlled, developed, refined, and sized to fit into the space that was available.

It’s easy to think that this whole concept of content control is contrary to the spirit of the Internet and especially social media. If there is something to be learned, why wait until later to learn it? And, why should anybody else decide when this information should be released?

I’m not exactly suggesting that the flow of content should be controlled or interrupted. There are some types of stories, however, that should be researched more than others before releasing to the public. And, as interactivity becomes more and more important to audiences, its important to think about how you can package or relate a piece of information with online tools or resources.

Whether its hours, days, or weeks, our postings to a profile should follow some kind of set cycle. This includes a beginning and an end plus an offer to provide the same content in a more easily digestable format.

Let Feedback be a part of the story

As your audience watches you work on your project, they will become a part of the process. It’s only fitting, then, to include their feedback in your content, whether it is as a direct quote, or incorporated as changes.

This should work a lot like a radio talk show where there are normally two or three pesonalities who discuss a given subject. They might keep it between themselves, or they open the phone lines so that their audience can participate. Or, their segment could focus mainly on their audience’s feedback.

The end result is that the radio show is a collaboration between both the radio host(s) and its own audience.

The Next Step

So, you have the motivation to start a collaborative project on the Internet, the means, and potentially the right amount of people (your friends). Where do you go from here?

Your next step should be to decide what you want your collaborative group to achieve. My plan with Flote, for example, is to develop a way of developing content, filtering for the popularity, converting it into different formats, and distributing the content in its different forms. I chose the title “Flote” because it is similar to the spelling of the word “float,” and literally means “to skim.”

My plan is to use Live Streaming/Live Blogging to collect the content and filter it for popularity and/or quality. My role would be that of Content Jockey or Radio Show Host, as I surfed the Internet for pieces of information which interested me. I would then post them in different locations and welcome feedback from my audience. As I recieve the feedback (likes and comments), I would move the content into different levels of publishing and fine-tune it until it is ready to include in some kind of “best of” type publication. The publication would then be distributed on a specialized service such as

Yes, this all sounds very elaborate and, yes, I’m not quite sure that it would all work exactly the way that I envisioned it. But, I would be raising the bar for the way that Social Media is used. Ultimately, a project like this would turn its collaborators into producers instead of consumers.

The beauty of it, though, is that we don’t really need to change our behavior in order to make it all work out. Anybody who contributes to the Flote process would honestly do what they normally do–post links on Facebook, chat with friends, browse the web, etc.–but instead of posting the information in their profile and forgetting about it, they might expand it out into a longer commentary, or track comments from friends. Then, this collateral content would be compiled into an article that would be featured in a Flote online publication later. So, I guess the biggest change is that one would need to belong to Flote, take turns going “on duty,” and follow up their posts with summaries.


The Internet and social media are going to continue to evolve no matter what we do. The decision we’re faced is whether we want to remain on the sidelines or jump in and influence the way these social tools evolve. If you feel like you’re ready to help shape the Internet into a tool that serves a greater purpose, then perhaps you’re ready to learn more about the Flote Project.





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