Sunday, January 12, 2014

Some Musings on the Issue of Network Filters

A key function of a personal learning network is that of filtering information. Our PLNs push information to us and suppress the sort of information that we have indicated we do not need or want.

Tim Kastelle lists Five Forms of Filtering; 3 filters based on human judgement (na├»ve, expert & network) and 2 mechanical filters (heuristic & algorithmic). Kastelle's work provides a very interesting jumping off point for me. Considering filters has helped to trigger my re-examination of several lingering questions. 

To me filters imply convergence. Maybe, just as one needs filters for convergence, one also needs them for divergent thinking – something analogous to a ray of sunlight being filtered by a prism to refract into the colours of the rainbow. This could be akin to standing back and looking for the big picture, which makes me think about deBono’s six coloured hats – each hat is a type of filter. I tug a little more at the niggling thoughts at the periphery of my mind and I think I see that there are both process filters (such as deBono’s hats) and product filters. Too often we focus on product filters to the exclusion of process filters. For the most part we think about filters being convergent and we associate them with product or content but networks are particularly apt in dealing with context. So what is a divergent/process/context filter? Are Kastelle's five filters inclusive of divergent process filters? I think not. Maybe there is a sixth category of filter that is at work when collaboration is at play. The sixth type of filter which I will dub 'prism filter' has to do with purpose and big picture. Sometimes purpose is a consciously articulated part of our process but more often than not it is tacit. Purpose, whether overt or covert, motivates connection and collaboration. Tim Kastelle says, “we can’t connect without some filtering going on . . .” I think we cannot really connect without some ‘purpose’ or ‘big picture’ reason to connect, without our ‘prism filter’ being in play.

If ‘open’ is a critical part of Internet participation then perhaps there ought to be a form of open filter or prism filter available when we are gathering information, resources, ideas. A lens that encourages us to look out, to think big. 

The next step in my reflexive journey involves questioning my questions – maybe the open divergent big picture part is more appropriately dealt with in the sense-making that follows gathering. However, if we have limited our ingredients too much in seeking information we will have limited the boundaries of our sense-making – which brings me to the importance of diversity in networks (an attempt to counteract the effects of homophily and propinquity). I think a critical filter question is, “How do we ensure that our filters do not inappropriately or prematurely restrict our focus?” 


  1. Hi Maureen, thanks for interesting post and such a great final question ! And how to find a balance between "sane" vs "insane" curiosity/enthusiasm ? I read this quote this morning I thought I would share :"The art of knowing is knowing what to ignore." (Rumi)
    Btw there is a mini-cMOOC going on at the moment about digital curation where the topic of filtering is important one obviously - check #dcurate if you are interested...

  2. Cedric, I love the quote and I appreciate you taking time to comment! Thanks