Bruce Sterling’s Useful “Shell” Metaphor

I had a chance to hear Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer and author of the seminal book “Shaping Things,” speak yesterday. Among other things, he described an interesting metaphor for the ratings, reviews, blog opinions and other comments that products and services accumulate on the Internet via user-generated content.

Sterling proposed thinking of Internet opinions as a “shell” laminated onto the space occupied by the actual product or service.  

One question his description provoked from the audience was particularly insightful: Is this shell of opinions more important than the product or service itself?

Sterling asserted that it is not, but I would contend that a brand’s perception is everything — and that the shell of user-generated content is a critical shaper of marketing success or failure.

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