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Signal, Curation, Discovery

By - December 11, 2010

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This past week I spent a fair amount of time in New York, meeting with smart folks who collectively have been responsible for funding and/or starting companies as varied as DoubleClick, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr, Federated Media (my team), and scores of others. I also met with some very smart execs at American Express, a company that has a history of innovation, in particular as it relates to working with startups in the Internet space.

I love talking with these folks, because while we might have business to discuss, we usually spend most of our time riffing about themes and ideas in our shared industry. By the time I reached Tumblr, a notion around “discovery” was crystallizing. It’s been rattling around my head for some time, so indulge me an effort to Think It Out Loud, if you would.

Since its inception, the web has presented us with a discovery problem. How do we find something we wish to pay attention to (or connect with)? In the beginning this problem applied to just web sites – “How do I find a site worth my time?” But as the web has evolved, the problem keeps emerging again – first with discrete pieces of content – “How do I find the answer to a question about….” – and then with people: “How do I find a particular person on the web?” And now we’ve started to combine all of these categories of discovery: “How do I find someone to follow who has smart things to say about my industry?” In short, over time, the problem has not gotten better, it’s gotten far more complicated. If all search had to do was categorize web content, I’d wager it’d be close to solved by now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our first solution to the web’s initial discovery problem was to curate websites into directories, with Yahoo being the most successful of the bunch. Yahoo became a crucial driver of the web’s first economic model: banner ads. It not only owned the largest share of banner sales, but it drove traffic to the lion’s share of second-party sites who also sold banner ads.

But directories have clumsy interfaces, and they didn’t scale to the overwhelming growth in the number of websites. There were too many sites to catalog, and it was hard to determine relative rank of one site to another, in particular in context of what any one individual might find relevant (this is notable – because where directories broke down was essentially around their inflexibility to deal with individual’s specific discovery needs. Directories failed at personalization, and because they were human-created, they failed to scale. Ironically, the first human-created discovery product failed to feel…human).

Thus, while Yahoo remains to this day a major Internet company, its failure to keep up with the Internet’s discovery problem left an opening for a new startup, one that solved discovery for the web in a new way. That company, of course, was Google. By the end of the 1990s, five years into the commercial web, discovery was a mess. One major reason was that what we wanted to discover was shifting – from sites we might check out to content that addressed our specific needs.

Google exploited the human-created link as its cat-herding signal. While one might argue around the edges, what Google did was bring the web’s content to heel. Instead of using the site as the discrete unit of discovery, it used the page – a specific unit of content. (Its core algorithm, after all, was called PageRank – yes, named after co-founder Larry Page, but the entendre stuck because it was apt).

Google search not only revolutionized discovery, it created an entire ecosystem of economic value, one that continues to be the web’s most powerful (at least for now). As with the Yahoo era, Google became not only the web’s largest seller of advertising, it also became the largest referrer of traffic to other sites that sold advertising. Google proved the thesis that if you find a strong signal (the link), and curate it at scale (the search engine), you can become the most important company in the Internet economy. With both, of course, the true currency was human attention.

But once again, what we want to pay attention to is changing. Sure, we still want to find good sites (Yahoo’s original differentiation), and we want to find just the right content (Google’s original differentiation). But now we also want to find out “What’s Happening” and “Who’s Doing What”, as well as “Who Might I Connect With” in any number of ways.*

All of these questions are essentially human in nature, and that means the web has pivoted, as many have pointed out, from a site- and content-specific axis to a people-specific axis. Google’s great question is whether it can pivot with the web – hence all the industry speculation about Google’s social strategy, its sharing of data with Facebook (or not), and its ability to integrate social signal into its essentially HTML-driven search engine.

While this drama plays out, the web once again is becoming a mess when it comes to discovery, and once again new startups have sprung up, each providing new approaches to curate signal from the ever-increasing noise. They are, in order of founding, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and oddly enough, while each initially addressed an important discovery problem, they also in turn created a new one, in the process opening up yet another opportunity – one that subsequent (or previous) companies may well take advantage of.

Let me try to explain, starting with Facebook. When Facebook started, it was a revelation for most – a new way to discover not only what mattered on the web, but a way to connect with your friends and family, as well as discover new people you might find interesting or worthy of “friending.” Much as Google helped the web pivot from sites to content, Facebook became the axis for the web’s pivot to people. The “social graph” became an important curator of our overall web experience, and once again, a company embarked on the process of dominating the web: find a strong signal (the social graph), curate it at scale (the Facebook platform), and you may become the most important company in the Internet economy (the jury is out on Facebook overtaking Google for the crown, but I’d say deliberations are certainly keeping big G up at night).

But a funny thing has started to happen to Facebook – at least for me, and a lot of other folks as well. It’s getting to be a pretty noisy place. The problem is one, again, of scale: the more friends I have, the more noise there is, and the less valuable the service becomes. Not to mention the issue of instrumentation: Facebook is a great place for me to instrument my friend graph, but what about my interests, my professional life, and my various other contextual identities? Not to mention, Facebook wasn’t a very lively place to discover what’s up, at least not until the newsfeed was forced onto the home page.

Credit Twitter for that move. Twitter’s original differentiation was its ability to deliver a signal of “what’s happening”. Facebook quickly followed suit, but Twitter remains the strongest signal, in the main because of its asymmetrical approach to following, as opposed to symmetric friending. Twitter is yet another company that has the potential to be “the next Yahoo or Google” when it comes to signal, discovery, and curation, but it’s not there yet. Far too many folks find Twitter to be mostly noise and very little signal.

In its early years, things were even worse. When I first started using Twitter, I wrote quite a bit about Twitter’s discovery problem – it was near impossible to find the right folks to follow, and once you did, it was almost as difficult to curate value from the stream of tweets those people created.

Twitter’s first answer to its discovery problem – the Suggested User List – was pretty much Yahoo 1994: A subjective, curated list of interesting tweeters. The company’s second attempt, “Who To Follow,” is a mashup of Google 2001 and Facebook 2007: an algorithm that looks at what content is consumed and who your follow, then suggests folks to follow. I find this new iteration very useful, and have begun to follow a lot more folks because of it.

But now I have a new discovery problem: There’s simply too much content for me to grok. (For more on this, see Twitter’s Great Big Problem Is Its Massive Opportunity). Add in Facebook (people) and Google search (a proxy for everything on the web), and I’m overwhelmed by choices, all of them possibly good, but none of them ranked in a way that helps me determine which I should pay attention to, when, or why.

It’s 1999 all over again, and I’m not talking about a financing bubble. The ecosystem is ripe for another new player to emerge, and that’s one of the reasons I went to see the folks at Tumblr yesterday.

As I pointed out in Social Editors and Super Nodes – An Appreciation of RSS, Tumblr is growing like, well, Google in 2002, Facebook in 2006, or Twitter in 2008. The question I’d like to know is….why?

I’m just starting to play with the service, but I’ve got a thesis: Tumblr combines the best of self expression (Facebook and blogging platforms) with the best of curation (Twitter and RSS), and seems to have stumbled into a second-order social interest graph to boot (I’m still figuring out the social mores of Tumblr, but I am quite certain they exist). People who use Tumblr a lot tell me it “makes them feel smarter” about what matters in the web, because it unpacks all sorts of valuable pieces of content into one curated stream – a stream curated by people who you find interesting. It’s sort of a rich media Twitter, but the stuff folks are curating seems far more considered, because they are in a more advanced social relationship with their audience than with folks on Twitter. In a way, it feels like the early days of blogging, crossed with the early days of Twitter. With a better CMS and a dash of social networking, and a twist. If that makes any sense at all.

Tumblr, in any case, has its drawbacks: It feels a bit like a walled garden, it doesn’t seem to play nice with the “rest of the web” yet, and – here’s the kicker – finding people to follow is utterly useless, at least in the beginning.

Just as with Twitter in the early days, it’s nearly impossible to find interesting people to follow on Tumblr, even if you know they’re there. For example, I knew that Fred Wilson, who I respect greatly, is a Tumblr user (and investor), so as soon as I joined the service, I typed his name into the search bar at the top of Tumblr’s “dashboard” home page. No results. That’s because that search bar only searches what’s on your page, not all of Tumblr itself. In short, Tumblr’s search is deeply broken, just like Twitter’s search was back in the day (and web search was before Google). I remember asking Evan Williams, in 2008, the best way to find someone on Twitter, and his response was “Google them, and add the word Twitter.” I’m pretty sure the same is true at present for Tumblr. (It’s how I found Fred, anyway).

Continuing the echoes of past approaches to the same problem, Tumblr currently provides a “suggested users” like directory on its site, highlighting folks you might find interesting. I predict this will not be around for long – because it simply doesn’t solve the problem we want it to solve. I want to find the right users for me to follow, not ones that folks at Tumblr find interesting.

If Tumblr can iron out these early kinks, well, I’d warrant it will take its place in the pantheon of companies who have found a signal, curated it at scale, and solved yet another important discovery problem. The funny thing is, all of them are still in the game – even Yahoo, who I’ve spent quite a bit of time with over the past few months. I’m looking forwarding to continuing the conversation about how they approach the opportunity of discovery, and how each might push into new territories. Twitter, for example, seems clearly headed toward a Tumblr-like approach to content curation and discovery with its right hand pane. Google continues to try to solve for people discovery, and Facebook has yet to prove it can scale as a true content-discovery engine.

The folks at Google used to always say “search is a problem that is only five-percent solved.” I think now they might really mean “discovery is a problem that will always need to be solved.” Keep trying, folks. It gets more interesting by the day.

* I’m going to leave out the signals of commerce (What I want to buy) and location (Where I am now) for later ruminations. If you want my early framing thoughts, check out Database of Intentions Chart – Version 2, Updated for Commerce, The Gap Scenario,and My Location Is A Box of Cereal for starters.

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33 thoughts on “Signal, Curation, Discovery

  1. Very nice tour d’horizon and contextual perspective, as usual.

    Since you are enamored by Tumblr & have high expectations for it, would you put Posterous in the same category?

    Curious if you’re implying to put discovery at the same economic level as search- ie will there be “paid discovery”? I recall not too long ago when “paid search” used to be an oxymoron.

  2. Andrea Contri says:

    Great food for thought.
    One point though: I doubt Facebook and Twitter users are primarily there to find content. The web of people is wider than the web of content authors and curators – “sharers” if you will. It is also the web of my best friend or my cousin, with whom I chat and have conversations that have nothing to do with web content. Facebook’s latest Messages redesign is a huge bet on this “other half” of the web of people.
    Yahoo, Google, Tumblr and blogging do not offer this extra layer (at least not in their core value proposition), so I am not sure you are comparing apples to apples here.

  3. John says:

    Yes, WIlliam, I do think there will be paid discovery. In fact, there already is at Tumblr, the top “suggested users to follow” are in fact promoted, just like Promoted Accounts on Twitter. It doesn’t scale at present, but scaling this is pretty much job #1 at Twitter (along with promoted tweets and trends)….and I imagine we’ll see a new directory at Tumblr soon, just like we did with Twitter. When they scale discovery for each of us, then they can scale “paid discovery” as well. This is the historic lesson of Yahoo Directory to Google Search….

  4. John says:

    Andrea, you make a good point in practice. However, both Twitter and Tumblr have messaging – Twitter has Direct Messages, which requires reciprocal or symmetric relationship be established. From what I can tell, Tumblr’s messaging does not require this symmetry. I just got an email inside Tumblr from someone who I’ve never known before, and he helped me find a list of folks to follow on Tumblr. I promptly (and accidentally) posted his message onto my Tumblog. I could have deleted it, but for some reason, it felt OK to do it. We’ll see.
    We should watch to see if Twitter and/or Tumblr “open up” their messaging to the rest of the web, as Facebook just did.

  5. David Lifson says:

    You might find this post of mine interesting: http://caterpillarcowboy.com/post/1669998456/tumblr-as-one-giant-human-relevancy-filter-and-how

    The thesis is that the Tumblr community is able to do what Google’s PageRank and Amazon’s personalization algorithms haven’t – find the diamonds in the long tail. With this power, a business model for Tumblr emerges, which is e-commerce: by enabling Tumblr users who discover great long tail products / songs / artworks to sell those items to their followers, my calculations show Tumblr can generate upwards of $27MM a year in revenue. Add on a couple other revenue streams (premium themes, sponsored posts in your dash, sponsored Radar items, sponsored Tumblrs you might want to follow) and I could see them getting to the $40-50M / year range. Not sure that gets you acquired for $500M, but it’s in the ballpark.

    Also, welcome to the Tumblr community.

  6. William says:

    Ah…now I know what you were discussing with Fred Wilson at lunch Thursday when you both checked-in at Hunch & I was 2 blocks away.

  7. gregorylent says:

    it is all trending towards instant access to the collective consciousness. sort of what yogis do.

  8. @john
    Tumblr is wonderful but it is a micro-blogging platform/service that allows lots of self-expression which a lot of people, especially young folks, crave for. There are many similarities between Tumblr, posterous, about.me and flavor.me. It seems these services are a kick against the regimentation and rigidness of Facebook.

    But, how does Tumblr solve the discovery problem that you started the post with? Unless Tumblr have a breakthrough information discovery algorithm then they too will face the same problem as Twitter and others.

  9. Judy Shapiro says:

    Excellent, though provoking piece and I agree the frontiers of discovery are just opening with semantic and social graphs etc. I also just noted that Tumblr is attracting ex-FB devotees as I wrote in an Ad Age piece “Has Facebook that Facebook jumped the shark.”

    But let me suggest what IMHO is the necessary yet unresolved missing link for effective content curation/ discovery issues – the issue of trust.
    Right now “trust” does not play a key role beyond some basic “risk mitigation” credentials – but that does not work to reduce spammers, enable discovery and most importantly online commerce. I advocate grounding online content discovery within a paradigm of “community of interest”. It is easier (though not fool proof) to establish trust bonds online between people that say, love fly fishing,” than it is via social connections, (it’s easy to spot someone who really does love fly fishing versus a “fraud”).

    Better yet, a community of interest organizing principle allows commerce to happen much easier without taxing our social connections to the point of breaking.

    Bottom line – Google. FB are the “massive, strength in numbers” plays. Where I see for the curation to be solved is to introduce trust at a process level. One way is to “decompose” the Internet into higher trusted communities of interest where “Judy Consumer” will select the smaller communities of interest that appeals to her.

    I can also see how the massive social networks of today will seem as obsolete as a punch does to us today.
    @Judy Shapiro

  10. Yaron Galai says:

    Thanks for the great post, John.

    William, John – regarding the question about “Paid Discovery”, I thought I’d point out some of the stuff we’ve been doing at Outbrain (www.outbrain.com) on this front.

    We think of ourselves as a discovery engine, powering the recommended content links (“people who like this article also liked these:”) on publisher sites like Slate, Newsweek, TMZ, Boston.com, VentureBeat, etc.

    The link discovery is serendipitous, personalized and filtered for each individual reader, based on observations we make on click streams, time spent on each article, etc. We try to algorithmically “curate” the links and eliminate as much noise and interruption as possible. It’s not about overwhelming the reader with a stream full of links, but rather about recommending 2-3 next great articles.

    On the sites I mentioned above, you can see that some of the links we serve are marked as ‘paid distribution’. I think you’ll find these to be an interesting and pretty unique form of Paid Discovery. In ways, these links are for content discovery, what AdWords are for search.

    I hope this didn’t come through as an infomercial… :-) Just wanted to contribute to the discussion about paid discovery. Thanks again for the thoughtful post John!

    Yaron Galai, Founder+CEO of Outbrain

  11. Hi John, stumbled across your post having posted on the topic of curation myself on Friday (http://bit.ly/fI17os).

    In my post, I refer to curation as the one word that has dominated the social media domain for me during the latter half of the year, introducing my readers to Flipboard, Pulse and My Taptu.

    Ultimately, we’re seeking here what I labelled MyChannel in a presentation I delivered at Internet World 2005, London. Such channels are tailored uniquely and automatically from our own subscriptions, our friends’ subscriptions and recommendations, and automated “if you like that, you’ll like this” discovery.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a ‘perfect’ discovery routine. Even if an engine gets so good it can even take into account that I’m up for different stuff at 10am versus 10pm, it must still take an uncertain stab at serendipity, risking disappointment in striving to delight.

  12. John says:

    David, thanks for the link. Interesting. It’s early days, and we’ll see, I sense the platform needs to develop a lot before we get to that vision.

  13. John says:

    Judy, interesting thought on how massive social networks will be obsolete soon. Wonder if anyone from FBook is reading…and would care to respond!

  14. John says:

    Yaron, it’s fine to talk about your work in context, it helps in fact, thanks!

    Philip, I agree, we’ll never get to perfect. But we’ll keep trying, and ideally, we’ll get better than we have now…

  15. Judy Shapiro says:

    Hi John —

    Well – I am not holding my breath as far as FB responding. The Ad Age article “Has FB jumped the shark” http://adage.com/digitalnext/post?article_id=147523 got tremendous attention (landed on All Things D”) where people wanted a debate between “experienced marketer and wunderkid”… I am not surprised that FB did not respond there at all.

    The next Ad Age article I do will dive deeper into the concept that web marketing plays, eg FB will, actually MUST, “downsize”. Scale is not conducive to commerce because trust is mostly lost in the shuffle.

    I do wish there was more of open dialogue with FB though. They are the ultimate walled garden – culturally speaking.

    But I am persistent woman (hehe).

  16. Beth says:

    John,
    You possess an extraordinary ability to forecast new problems, and in turn, identify new opportunities. Thank you for sharing your understanding of the landscape.
    To weigh in on “paid discovery,” I believe consumers will directly pay for discovery that solves problems relevant to their lives. I envision, for example, a 40 year old woman sharing certain personal information about herself in an education and health platform, and in return receiving Web Apps to: (1) complete a home evaluation of her mother’s home to reduce the risk of her mother falling as she ages in place-with her iPad as she walks through her mother’s home; (2) an education app to have fun and learn something with her child on the weekend–perhaps, how the swing, see-saw, and carousel at the playground are really machines, levers, etc., and capture this data and photos with our iPhone or Android phone; (3) a Yoga App with info for getting started, health benefits, and even meet-up info to take a Yoga class at the local park or community center; (4) and professional connections related to her work as a Trusts & Estates attorney–let’s say high net-worth clients found through her M&A connections, and access to law students looking for a mentor to teach them the art of professional practice in Trusts & Estates. …and, I envision so much more.
    Do you think a consumer would directly pay for Web Apps to solve these sorts of problems of daily life? I would very much value your opinion as well as that of your followers.
    Many thanks,
    Beth

  17. Tony says:

    John

    Twitter is to mobile; what search is to the web!

    Mobile and Web in this context are “platforms”

    Wireless and Broadband are “infrastructure”

    Twitter and Search are “applications”

    Follow (Twitter) is instant, contextual, relevant and personalised by you and your preferences.

    Search (Google, Bing) is indexed, selected, presented, elected, paid for, delayed but personalised on your history.

    Follow is “now”, at the point of inspiration, entertainment or need, immediacy, narrow and responsive,

    Search is “there”, available, rich, historical, deep and wide.

    I would propose that “Follow” has a higher value for mobile than “Search”, and search has a higher value for the web.

    Add to this the mix/ possibility of social filtering that “follow” offers and there could be some logic to acquisition discussions

    http://blog.mydigitalfootprint.com/twitter-is-to-mobile-what-search-is-to-the-we

  18. ATS says:

    I have to point out how wrong you are.

    Tumblr artistic/creative community is the best.
    Tumblr search is the best
    Tumblr feed options are the best

    Tumblr has the BEST search of any platform. Go to the directory, click the NEWS dropdown and see hundreds of categories. Then drill in by recommendations including cute stickers people “buy” to promote things they like.

    http://www.tumblr.com/directory/news

    If you follow tumblr’s official feed you get a weekly roundup of popular suggestions. Following is too easy for words (click follow).

    http://www.tumblr.com/customize
    Go to services tab to feed twitter, or facebook. Feedburner, Google Anayltic and RSS Import are built in too. I am a WP person, so free plug-in or Ping.fm can feed with ease.

    The search bar on the dashboard of tumblr searches just your feed and those you follow.

    Honorable mention goes to posterous. They have far better sharing options, but no community to speak of..but better link juice if that is a priority.

  19. Richard says:

    I like your synopsis of the evolution of website/content discovery from Yahoo! to Google and Bing. I’ll add one earlier step, though. Remember the “Internet Yellow Pages” books?

    Awesome.

    You’re spot on that there are huge parallels between the the discovery problems we faced in the late 90s and the ones we’re seeing now with social content. (Full disclosure: solving that is the main drive behind my company, Spot Influence.)

    As you suggest, Tumbler has an opportunity to track engagement, do (some) social graph analysis and link tracking, and connect blogs via semantic analysis to determine the top Tumbler blogs on a topic.

    But as we get beyond Dunbar’s Number and use social media increasingly for topical discovery rather than social grooming, closed-garden solutions will ultimately fall short.

    Great post. Keep ‘em coming!

    Rich
    @heyrich

  20. Liza says:

    John, I agree that more niche networks are going to the next wave of social discovery as people look to filter out the noise, and Facebook and Twitter will need to create better tools to keep up.

    For those looking to do more research on social discovery check out

    http://info.gigya.com/OGWTDN.html
    and
    http://info.gigya.com/WP.SITNS.html

  21. Brad Noble says:

    We’ve been working on this problem—”But now I have a new discovery problem: There’s simply too much content for me to grok.”—at PostPost.

    Our theory: the more ways that we (collectively) can find to bring this content out into the world—decoupled from its source, filtered by context and beyond simply *now*—the more easily we will discover its value.

    Our first step was to make a social search engine to bring back historical results from the people you follow. Here, you can see what the people you follow said about “google TV” or “Pastis” or “Tim McCarver” or… anything, and you can do it on your own time and almost noiselessly.

    It works like a charm, but it requires you to stop what you’re doing wherever you’re doing it and go to http://postpo.st and search. It would be better if you could have “what the people you follow think about [whatever you're doing]” in the context of whatever you’re doing.

    So, our next step is to bring PostPost out to sites where word-of-mouth is useful; namely, where you’re making purchase decisions. (Maybe you’re wondering how a “Tim McCarver” search would be useful here—it’s not, though if the people you follow are anything like the people I follow, it’s very entertaining and certainly worth a look at http://postpo.st. But I digress; back to purchase decisions… ) For example, I’d like to see what the people I follow had to say about the “google TV” on the CNET page about Google TV. (We don’t have a deal with CNET, but it’s an illustrative example.)

    Here, the context becomes the search and the value of the content is in my connection to its sources.

    Thanks for sparking the conversation. It’s a big one, and it’ll take all of us to crack it.

  22. My twist on signal, curation and discovery is to display social media updates, such as Twitter streams, on LED signs – Twisplays – Twitter displays – where people can see them.

  23. Mark Oliver says:

    I’m confused, which is not a bad sign. I’m worried that all of these new sites are just duplicating content rather than aggregating it. Do I post on my blog and then repost on Tumblr, which then reposts on FaceBook? If so, what’s the point in my bog? Or, is all of this suppose to make my blog more visible? At what point is there so much duplicate content out there that Google no longer sees my blog as original? And really, the same would be true for people with the reposting/duplication. Maybe the ‘walled garden’ at Tumblr is good because they might be preventing Google from diverting search away from my blog???

  24. I like your thinking but don’t understand your conclusion. Tumblr is a blogging format that incorporates more design control. Makes for a nice looking blog. I think the natural extension of your thought process is Flipboard.

    Flipboard brings to life the social feed in an way that makes exploring what people are up to in my network a pleasure. If they can find a way to filter the content to what I want to see at any given moment they will be the next big thing (if they already aren’t).

  25. Gabe says:

    The power in tumblr for me is the ‘singularity’ of its voices. A sweet spot between RSS & Twitter (long form & short form) – the dashboard becomes my curated feed of thought, humor, and inspiration. The Tumblr feed somehow makes the inspiration feel far more personal than Twitter, but more valuable than Facebook.

    In a single dashboard I can have my recent favorite http://instagra.ms/, the best of instagram, a collection of F- yeah’s (the common tumblr meme) ie F – yeah Space as well as themed inspiration around Travel (http://blog.flight001.com/) or fashion (http://racinglikeapro.tumblr.com/)

    The biggest issue I have with every database (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, even local) is that of velocity. The people who post most & fasted crowd out others that I find equally valuable, but therefore never see.

    Do I value my brother’s Tweets less than say Guy Kawasaki? Do I care more about Aziz Ansari’s tumblr than my colleagues?

    Absolutely not, but the way that the data is fed back to me is such that I often miss their posts in the midst of the deluge from power users. Learning how to solve for this issue is my biggest discovery challenge and one I hope has a more elegant solution than simply clicking ‘Unfollow.’

  26. Hi John, this is indeed a great article. I liked it especially because it resonates a bit with my own thoughts on the subject of discovery. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert in this area but I am trying to learn from my experiences. I am a developer, interested in technology and follow few other developers on twitter. my problem is how to find more developers, having specific skill sets of my interest, whom I might be missing. I am sure many other developers out there have the same problem. So I developed a website called http://www.devchirp.com/ and hosted it couple of weeks ago. My theme is – Discover. Follow. Learn – I think, from a user’s perspective, Twitter (or for that matter Internet) is all about ‘discovering’ right resources, ‘following’ them and start ‘learning’ from them. I envision my site to be in the “Discovery” portion of my theme, Twitter is great platform that facilitates the “Follow” portion of the theme and obviously the User has to do all the ‘Learning’. Right now, since I am the only one managing this site, I manually search for developers on twitter and categorize based on their skills. people can also add twitter accounts to it. I haven’t publicized it yet but certainly looking into ways to do it. I hope the developer community likes it and benefits from it in future.

  27. kiem says:

    The biggest issue I have with every database (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, even local) is that of velocity. The people who post most & fasted crowd out others that I find equally valuable, but therefore never see.

    Do I value my brother’s Tweets less than say Guy Kawasaki? Do I care more about Aziz Ansari’s tumblr than my colleagues?

    Absolutely not, but the way that the data is fed back to me is such that I often miss their posts in the midst of the deluge from power users. Learning how to solve for this issue is my biggest discovery challenge and one I hope has a more elegant solution than simply clicking ‘Unfollow.’

  28. AA says:

    John, you said: “I’m still figuring out the social mores of Tumblr, but I am quite certain they exist”

    By social mores, you are possibly referring to the third aspect of the human nature (after signal, curation and discovery): the Community. The substance of Social is Community and without Community, there is no Social. If Tumblr provides Community than that’s good sign, otherwise, the race is on.

  29. Zach Cole says:

    This is a brilliant post. The one thing I’d like to have seen discussed pertaining to Twitter and its content filter (or lack thereof) is Twitter lists and hashtags. Although neither is a true content filter, both can be used to filter content to some degree for a better chance at finding something relevant. Altogether, this is a very thought-provoking article, and makes me wonder which player will be the first to step in and create something that properly tackles the issue of search, people, and content.

  30. Lisa says:

    So many great things in this post. My favorites are your insights into Google — not sure I can add to that. What I will add to is the discussion around Tumblr and social sites in general.

    It’s the combination of the platforms which I find so compelling, not any one of them. When I think about News consumption, for most of my life I read the NYTimes. That was all I had time for, and that was enough. Now, I read the most relevant sections of the Times, the best of WSJ, HBR, dozens of other magazines and assorted blogs. I personally curate what gets sent to me.

    The “social sites” are simply different sections of my “newspaper that is now the internet”. Facebook is my “Local” section. Twitter is “Fast-breaking news”. And Tumblr is “Arts and Entertainment.”

    Because the road to profitability is massive scale, no one platform has discovered how to leverage the uniqueness of individuals and the uniqueness of each site. David Lifson’s comment, above, about the potential for the business model is worth pursuing.

    What I like about Tumblr is that the best people I follow “see things that I could never see.” And if they could connect me with monetizable products or content because of that unique world view, and get a percentage of the revenue, I would be much happier than seeing random ads on their blogging platform.

    If the first step is curating the content, the second step might be curating commerce.

  31. Marianna says:

    People spend less time on Google than it appears. I go to WordPress directly to look for blogs, to WikiPedia for scientific questions and business profiles, to LinkedIn to learn about people. Twitter is a complete mess, it is not straightforward and thus not as useful as it sounds. Facebook is on a right track. I wish it would have advertisement search – ability to look for businesses by keyword vs. name.

  32. Srini Kumar says:

    Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

    In that order.

    The three API’s we chose to integrate into TinyVox ! :)

    Psychic stuff, John.

    Don’t you sometimes wish you could shout the word “CURATION” to yourself back in time ?

    Like, imagine if you had that word in 1997…

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