Discovery is a new tab that you get with your Twitter account. Fred Wilson likes it. Om Malik also likes it and has a good post today about where the internet is headed - From “search” to “discovery”.
It is easy to forget what the pre-search web was like. It was very local. One had to advertise one’s URL, which sounded rather silly. “Come visit us at www.greatstore.com!” Suddenly search provided a new market place. Instead of trying to attract a strictly local audience, you could build platforms that would get high SEO. With high SEO you got traffic and new opportunities to make money. This created some interesting incentives. One was good — a lot more and better content went up on the web. One was bad — everyone started to game the SEO system to get high ratings. This put a priority on traffic over meaning. The web had no tool to get smarter. Instead, it just got louder as people competed for higher SEO.
So we started thinking in terms of “social networking”. Being social implies making a connection. And the hope was that if people were loyal to a platform (like Facebook or Twitter) they would build threads there. The disciplining idea to get smarter — build better threads — was that the platform would become a “community”. A place where we take responsibility for the group.
In some ways this is better than search. It is more like a process, less ad hoc. But there is a different problem. The threads that we find are mostly superficial. Therefore, the platforms are not like communities we have in the real world. And they don’t build learning curves or deepen connections over time. So the problem with social networking is that it is not very serious.
So as Om reports, people now are thinking about “discovery”. If platforms can anticipate what we want in real time, they can help us discover new things and make new connections. This is the new tool that Twitter will install. BTW, Amazon has been working this for years. As we get more discovery tools, will this make the web smarter and more serious? Well, I think we need two more tools before we get a significant improvement
- new types of platforms that empower real world collective activities. Kickstarter is a nice example of this. But kickstarter could be a lot better if it was connected to a project tracking tool.
- new types of platforms that offer learning metrics. The idea of “online courses” like at Udemy is a start. But we need platforms where taking courses gives us tangible value in the real world.