Entering the Age of Personal Discovery
Oct 5, 2010 5:00 AM PT
Web 2.0 (everyone's favorite 2007 buzz word) heralded the age of social networks and powered a fundamental shift in the Web: filtering out excessive noise while building connections to friends, organizations and communities. Creating a Facebook profile (and later a Twitter handle) became a way of passage to keep up with friends and connections, monitor social trends and follow topics of personal interest.
Fast-forward to 2010 and 800 Facebook friends later, and the noise is back. Prominent social networks are now split between keeping up with a massive network of contacts and following major trends. Although friends are still important and social networks continue to do a good job of creating connections, the intimacy of sharing useful information is absent.
The Web is transitioning from an interactive Web 2.0 forum into dynamic, real-time aggregation -- the next logical step in the Internet's evolution. This real-time aggregation and personalization of content is known as "discovery" -- a term consumers will be hearing more and more often moving into 2011 and beyond.
Although discovery is not a new concept, it is just now being defined in relation to the online experience. Most notably, Amazon developed a system where if you browse or purchase an item, it recommends similar items that other users matching your behavior pattern have also purchased or browsed.
This works to a degree; however, it is only successful on the host platform (for Amazon you will find shopping recommendations, on Netflix you will find movie recommendations, etc.). True discovery, as it is being touted today, takes this to the next level: It will tie together all of your information -- what you have liked, purchased, viewed, discussed, browsed -- into a real-time aggregator that provides actionable recommendations on any category of your choosing. Simply put, discovery is for the time-poor content searcher who still craves a fulfilling and "happy" experience.
How Does Discovery work?
There is no shortage of content on the Web. While this has caused social networks to be overloaded with data, it has also opened doors for new opportunities to uncover items of interest using tools to organize, filter and discover happiness.
To illustrate, take an everyday problem such as finding a good book to read. Typical solutions include asking a friend, browsing online for ideas, reading reviews about books and then looking at what you read recently to find similar titles. Effective discovery combines all those steps into one. A discovery engine matches you with others that have expressed similar interests across numerous areas (music, movies, articles, clothing) and cross-references their book preferences in order to make informed suggestions. That, alongside the knowledge of books you have read in the past, enables it to recommend new titles, minimizing time you spend browsing and delivering a more meaningful experience.
Going Mobile With Discovery
Smartphones fundamentally changed how people approached online information, and for discovery to be successful, it must have both an online and mobile interface. Websites such as Yelp have already begun to make the jump to using geo-location apps to provide discovery services on a mobile platform.
Discovery works through smartphones by taking advantage of mobile GPS to make real-time recommendations based on location. Say you go to new restaurant in Seattle; you have read reviews but are having a hard time picking out a bottle of wine to order. With a discovery app, you can look to see if anyone has eaten at the restaurant in the past, what they ordered and their opinion. By knowing your previous wine interests and purchases, the discovery engine can also match your results to the online wine list for a recommendation. While your server may also be a qualified source of information, it never hurts to have a backup plan.
So ... why should I invest in discovery now?
This is a common reaction I receive from a lot of people, with the inherent problem that people look at discovery like social networks: a major time investment. If anything, discovery is not an investment, but a way to simplify your life (filter the noise!) while adding an element of happiness. By helping you find things faster and with better accuracy, it cuts down a lot of wasted time searching through content you are not interested in or have already viewed.
There are several discovery platforms being built out there, including recent news announced by Steve Jobs touting Ping as a music discovery engine when he launched the service in September. This is the age of discovery, and it is time to look beyond social networks to help simplify your life, bringing back happiness to your content experience.
Your time is valuable. Make it count.
Edward Balassanian is CEO of Strings.com.