The term ‘Daily Me’ was first coined in 1995 by author and MIT Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. Law professor Cass Sunstein took up this notion in his book Republic.com published in 2001 (he also wrote about it in the updated version Republic.com 2.0 published last year) on which he wrote: ‘It is some time in the future. Technology has greatly increased people’s ability to “filter” what they want to read, see, and hear. General interest newspapers and magazines are largely a thing of the past. The same is true of broadcasters. The idea of choosing “channel 4” or instead “channel 7” seems positively quaint. With the aid of a television or computer screen, and the Internet, you are able to design your own newspapers and magazines. Having dispensed with broadcasters, you can choose your own video programming, with movies, game shows, sports, shopping, and news of your choice. You mix and match.’ He decribed this utopian vision as a very possible threat to democracy and asks out loud if we really want these kind of applications.
Just four years later, in 2005, this idea of a Daily Me became reality when internet entrepeneur Eduardo Hauser founded DailyMe.com, a website that allows users to choose and sort their own content. They state: ‘DailyMe is changing the way news is read and delivered with its advanced news experience that meets the needs of modern-day consumers by combining the best of journalism, technology, and community. DailyMe is a news provider and content platform that allows you to customize, personalize, aggregate, share, and interact with the news, blogs, columns and stories that interest you. At DailyMe.com, users have access to three views of the news – editorialized, personalized and socialized.’
Creating an account is easy and free of charge. Just enter your e-mailadress and username and you can start creating your DailyMe. There are several categories of news that you can choose and add to your personal profile, such as ‘World news’, ‘U.S. news’, ‘Elections’, ‘Money’, ‘Technology’, ‘Sports’, ‘Science’, ‘Health’, ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Lifestyle’. All of these categories are divided into subcategories, from which you can also choose. Elections, for example is divided into two subcategories: John McCain and Barack Obama. Technology is divided into the subcategories Computer & Software, Gadgets, Gaming and Internet. Once you’ve created your DailyMe – with only the news you want to read- you can choose in what format you’d like your news brought to you; whether this be via e-mail (with or without a pdf attachment) or your mobile phone.
Now that we know how an actual Daily Me is created we can aks ourselves what kind of (online) culture DailyMe.com or other personalized (news)websites are producing. And we should consider if Cass Sunstein was right when he wrote that features like this can threaten democracy and fragmentize society. In an article published on the website TPM (Talking Points Memo) Cafe, Sunstein writes: ‘Many people are now using the Internet to create something like a Daily Me. And many people are now celebrating the rise of countless niches, of long tails, and of collaborative filtering, all of which promote personalization. What is wrong with countless editions of the Daily Me? One problem is an absence of shared experiences: diverse nations need some social glue, and shared experiences can provide that glue, because they give people a sense that they are involved in a common enterprise. National holidays are important partly for that reason. Shared communications experiences, as opposed to information cocoons, have a similar function. (Think of a presidential debate.)’
But should a website for personalized news really be viewed as something that causes absence of shared experiences? Somehow this seems a bit drastic to me. I can’t help but think that people have always chosen their own content. Even before most of us had Internet acces, we could choose whether or not to read a newspaper article or to watch newsreports. Of course, in this day and age it is even easier to select and divide. But does this really mean we deprive ourselves from the social glue that keeps us all together? And what will happen if the stickyness has gone?
I think it is important to keep society’s best interest in mind and really consider what consequences certain Web 2.0 applications may have. But I also think we should not get ahead of ourselves and realize personalized (news)websites can be a huge benefit. With the objective of bringing custom news to those who want and seek it, DailyMe can be considered a news sharing experience, that might even glue some of us back together.
This analysis is also posted on the Masters of Media blog.