How Cowbird is humanising online experiences

As human beings, we are inherently social creatures and yet our experiences on the web often feel as though they’re becoming increasingly de-humanised.

Whether it’s people (and brands) constantly promoting themselves or the fact that anything produced online only holds people’s attention for a small amount of time, our experiences with others on the web are starting to feel shorter and more transactional.

In this video, new media artist Jonathan Harris talks about how he walked away from success and notoriety and was inspired to counter current trends whilst building Cowbird, the social storytelling platform.

4 key trends

Jonathan talks about four interesting trends that he’s noticed about human behaviour on the web:

1. Compression

Communication seems to be getting shorter. We’ve gone from letters to phone calls, and from emails to tweets. We’ll eventually get to a point where we simply grunt to one another!

2. Disposability

Videos, blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates – they only capture people’s attention for a finite amount of time (and usually only a few hours at the most).

Even major internet campaigns, such as Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign seems like a distant memory even though it was big news just a month or so ago.

3. Curation

More and more people are using other people’s content to reflect what they think and who they are.

4. Self-promotion

People are turning their lives into online advertisements, using social platforms like Facebook and Twitter to shout out to the world: “look at me and how awesome I am!”.

Establishing a more humanised online experience

In developing Cowbird, Jonathan Harris has focused on flipping these four trends to create a more engaging, permanent and human experience on Cowbird:


Instead of compression there is a focus on deeper, more richer content experiences.

This deepening of communication allows Cowbird users to express themselves in the kind of detail they might not be able to do elsewhere.


Instead of disposability Cowbird embraces the concept of creating work that will be around longer than a couple of hours.

Like old-fashioned notebooks, Cowbird is about creating meaningful stories that will endure.


Instead of curating other people’s work to express themselves, Cowbird encourages users to express themselves by creating new, original content that will allow them to express their personality and individuality.


Whilst self-promotion is about showing off, self-reflection is about being more contemplative about oneself and communicating this accordingly.


I believe we can all learn and take a lot away from these trends and from the way Jonathan Harris has developed and launched Cowbird.

Although there’s a place for tweeting, curating content based on other people’s work and even self-promotion, we should also consider taking a deeper, more creative and thoughtful approach to communicating with others online.