Content Dhobi Ghats: Easier Self-Expression and Better Filters

In Mumbai, there are massive open-air laundromats called dhobi ghats. Somehow, clothing is picked up from a client’s home, is placed into close proximity, if not outright intermingled with the clothes of thousands of other households, but yet it makes it back to the home of the correct owner. This ability to match the right clothing, picked out from a mountain of the wrong clothing, to the right household is critical to the value created by the dhobi ghats, as returning the wrong stuff would have no value and indeed, would drain value by the cascading frustration it would cause to clients.

So what does this have to do with anything?

In my most recent post, which discussed “enablement” as an Internet business model, I linked back to a post from roughly two months ago about Internet-enabled expression as a foundation of successful business models on the Internet and as an unprecedented historic enabler of human expression. I noted that one could trace the history of the Internet through sites that made self-expression easier and easier:

I can chart a chain of  tools from when I first started using the Internet: interest-based UseNet groups, listservs, GeoCities and other “create your own website” tools, blogging tools, YouTube, Facebook and social networking sites, Twitter, Tumblr and microblogging sites, photosharing tools etc.

Coincidentally, also yesterday, Fred Wilson posted on a similar topic. He noted that using posts/day for WordPress, Tumblr, and Twitter that:

The frequency of posts in a service is inversely proportional to the size of the post. Said another way, the longer the post, the less frequently they will happen.


If you want to understand the power of Tumblr and Twitter, you need to look at how quick and how easy it is to post. There are of course many other factors at work, but brevity and ease is a big part of why these services work so well.

The point is simple: the easier you make it for people to express themselves by giving them a variety of simple tools to do so, the easier it is for the user to overcome inertia and “say” something, and the more total content is created.

This raises the obvious question: we already have too much content; so isn’t making it easier for users to create further content sort of pointless. Fred’s most illuminating point is in the comments to his post: “that’s why we need filters and curation. we want more posts and more filters”

Filters to sort through the ever-increasing content and present it on a silver platter to those for whom it is most relevant is now a critically important business model and the other side of the coin of the expression thesis. Some system, like the Mumbai dhobi ghats, has to get the content to the right place in order for it to have optimal value. Ultimately, if the content is not read, it will not be created, nor will society benefit from users seeing the content most useful to them. For these reasons, critical to “building better soapboxes” is also creating “dhobi ghats” to keep advancing the enabling of human expression as we have been doing this last fifteen or so years.

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