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It’s easy to see that social media are filters–and that makes me realize that filters ubiquitous. Sometimes they’re explicit. Sometimes they are not. This is the first post where I’ll start thinking more concertedly about them.

Here’s my first quick assessment: filters exist at every social layer. Facebook owns the innermost circle–friends and family (yes, others extend their FB beyond this inner circle). The key detail here is that there is a one-to-one connection: the follower is followed. The next social layer is looser–and this is where Twitter reigns. I can find people and track them (really, for me, that means finding out what they’re reading–more on that later). The key detail is that they don’t have to follow me. The next circle–perhaps it’s the last in this simplification–is society at large. This is where mass media reigns: NBC, NYTimes.com, CNN and others. The communication mode here is many to many. Content is essentially sprayed into the ether–wherever it falls or winds up no one knows.

Quick observation: the companies that have mastered each are finding ways to be relevant in the other layers: Facebook as a distribution channel for movies, NYTimes.com shows me what my Friends are reading on their (on my?) homepage. Twitter as CRM (Co-Tweet or HootSuite).

Anybody who says they have this figured out is naive. Social media is like a wave: ride it, enjoy it, respect it–but nobody knows exactly how it will break and when.