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This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Mobile products are with us all the time. They’re embedded in our lives on two dimensions 1) internally – our individual needs 2) externally – how we share with others. Mobile companies use filters on each of these dimensions to make effective products.

Internal filters enable personalization.

Internal filters can be as simple as our current location or our address book, which power location-based services that connect people to their environment.

Take real estate marketplace Trulia, for instance. Once it knows a user’s criteria for a home search, it sends them personalized push notifications whenever a suitable listing is available nearby. It can even contact property managers on their behalf, and move them to the front of the line. We first tested this concierge feature during my time at Trulia and were concerned that people would find it invasive. On the contrary, user satisfaction went up – users were grateful for any help in the stressful search process.

Internal filters come in two forms:

  • Place filters: such as current location, home or work address, and any saved points of interest, power “location-based services”. Mobile companies that power these services have transformed our lives profoundly. People no longer need to decipher maps to go places or rely on local insiders for cool restaurants.
  • People filters: such as address books and social plug-ins, make it easy for us to connect with people we want to, as well as protect us from those we don’t. Mobile companies use people filters to help us share e.g. information/photos with small groups of friends or attendees of an event, and remind us about friend’s birthday’s,

We also need filters to help us successful integrate with communities – this is where external filters come in.

External filters power communities.

External filters establish social norms and rituals for our mobile products. They make users respect each other, and feel like they are part of something bigger.

There are three types of external filters.

  • Policy filters: such as privacy rules, terms and conditions, and other legalese, govern how users’ information can and should be used. These filters protect members of a community from threats like government watch, and nuisances like unsolicited advertising. Mobile companies are often forced by laws and regulations to implement and enforce them.
  • Popularity filters: such as reviews and ratings, establish and protect users’ reputations. They facilitate the informal vetting process we go through as we become accepted by a group or community. They express the respect others have for our skills, tastes, values, and opinions. They are often used by mobile companies to ensure that members of their community play by the rules.
  • Permission filters: such as opt-in/opt-out features and abuse reports, regulate how others can impact us. They are especially important because many of us never disconnect from our mobile products. (One of my friends dared to spend a month free of technology and hated it: he said he felt anxious and isolated as a result). Permission filters give us power over what others do with our data, and set the boundaries for how they can communicate with us.

Mobile products are the ultimate personal products. They cater to our every need. We grow attached to them. Internal filters personalize everything to make us feel understood and taken care of as an individual. External filters create the social norms we need to feel like we belong in communities.

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