So I learned a new buzz word flipping through an issue of Fastcompany (“Riot Police; Why can’t anyone tame the social stream and just give us the good stuff?” Fastcompany, Sept 2011):
Every minute of every day, the more than half-billion members of Facebook collectively create almost 1 million photos, wall posts, status updates, and other bits of ephemera… Then there’s Youtube, which recently announced that it receives more than 48 hours of video per minute. If you watched video every minute of your life, you’d get through 10 days of Youtube uploads.
That explains why discovery is the word du jour in tech.
The article then goes on to explain different efforts by Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, etc to filter out things we aren’t interested in and “give us the good stuff.”
But then he hit the interesting point to me: why isn’t it working?
And that’s why the discovery engine remains a mythical beast. Today’s personalization tools are build on several faulty premises. There’s still too much presuming that we want a steady diet of what we just consumed. Just because you clicked on one post of Sarah Palin reinterpreting history doesn’t mean you want to hear all she has to say.
Another is that we’re interested in everything our friends are. (I like my friends despite their inexplicable devotion to Mad Men.)
He goes on to give two more reasons why personalization algorithms don’t give us the good stuff, but by this point I was already thinking: what’s the cause for this to work?
It’s a good idea: in our busy, modern, connected lives, how do we save time wading through an endless sea of data to find things that are useful to us? Because providing access to that stream of information is worth something.
I like the observation that these engines are built on faulty premises; I don’t like everything my friends like and just because I watch one video of people offering free hugs doesn’t mean I want to watch more.
So what to do?
Obviously, if I’m writing this article then the answer has to do something with seeds… if I boil it down, what do I want? What all good business people have always wanted: to find people to connect to and offer them something valuable.
So there you go, I think. If you want to connect with people, what do you have to do? Work hard to bring people together; don’t split people apart. So what if Jim at work makes loud noises when he’s eating; you don’t need to point that out to your friends (hoping that they will agree with you; yes, Jim is bad from his own slde).
Then, as a business person, I should look at what I’m doing. Am I offering the best value possible? Can I value-add to what I’m trying to sell, all the while making sure that that is what my customer really wants?
(Of course, it helps to have the right motivation while you’re doing this as well, and understand how it all really works!)
So, if I’m Youtube, what do I do? (Youtube’s–perhaps over-exuberant–goal is to get average viewing time up from 15 minutes a day to several hours.) Encourage my employees to work together (with each other, and also with customers, suppliers, etc) planting the seed to be able to connect people.
And I’m also thinking, a lot of the popularity of Youtube has centered around the “funny video.” Short, often goofy and slightly vacuous videos of people dancing, or making mistakes, or performing badly. That’s fine; people need to laugh, blow off steam. But maybe there’s some way to also add value? Maybe mixed in with the videos of people falling, or singing badly, or not realizing their webcam is turned on you could intersperse videos from Sal Khan’s free online university? Let them waste a little bit of time, but then offer them something meaningful.
That might keep them interested.