Details about what movies are “coming soon” and what time they start at a theater might be enough information for some people to make a decision about whether to spend their money at the silver screen. For many other people, however, it helps to know specific details about particular films — like that a movie is the last film a celebrity starred in before his or her untimely death or that a movie is the final film in a series. A movie critic also could provide context for potential viewers, noting that the hypothetical dead celebrity’s final performance wasn’t his or her best. That context, in addition to recommendations from others, could provide the background to drive someone to make a different decision about attending a screening of the film.
Context, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is the weaving together of a whole situation with background, environment relevant to the specific situation. While the movie example is a trivial matter, it demonstrates one way context is moving us from our former “information age” to a “recommendation age.”
“Today information is ridiculously easy to get: you practically trip over it on the street. Information gathering is no longer the issue — making smart decisions based on the information is now the trick ... ” Chris Anderson writes in his book, “The Long Tail.” “Recommendations serve as shortcuts through the thicket of information.”
Just think how often people decide what music to listen to or other products to buy based strictly on an automated analysis of users’ likes and/or previous purchases. Despite thousands of music titles availability, only when prompted by an online filter to consider something else that others like you also “liked” do they consider purchasing the item.
Unless someone understands and trusts the source of that recommendation or context, however, it could lead someone to draw some flawed conclusions. Why? Because everything is more complicated and nuanced than it seems.
That is precisely the reason governing bodies want to know the experience others have had on initiatives and the decisions’ impacts on constituencies. Something that might seem innocuous could have a number of unintended consequences that also ought to be considered before going down a new path. Similarly, the general public should want to know that same context so it understands the possible reasons for a decision and the potential positive or negative effects of it too. An example would be the City of Ottawa’s recent move to gather information on other, nearby cities’ experiences with allowing urban chickens in city limits, before ultimately voting on the matter.
Some people might perceive the act of providing context as the author trying to “frame the story” to produce a specific outcome — and that might be the case when a child, spouse or even blogger is explaining a situation. However, most people and organizations want others to make informed decisions with good data and, as needed, context to show the background, scope and relevance.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher