Friday, December 25, 2015

Could ‘discovery’ offer the greatest potential for the future of the internet?

I’ve been aware for over five years that discovery is fundamentally more  important than search.
My initial goal in creating PreAcquaint.com was to create a discovery engine in the form of a social network that would allow its users to discover highly compatible people they should be adding to their life that they would be grateful to have met, that they otherwise never would have come into contact with.
The problems to carry out this vision were numerous and quickly became apparent.
First of all, if an idea is good only as long as it assumes having an active network effect — in other words, if the prerequisite to its success is having millions of users — then it will indeed be reduced to being a bad idea without a practical (and innovating!) way to acquire users.
As well, such a social network typically requires having the user answer many questions so as to be able to provide useful matches, but asking the questions in the first place kills the user sign up and engagement metrics; and so it would appear that AI would be the way around this, which is a theory which remains to be proven in addition to the fact that it would likely be capital intensive to research and implement (assuming that AI in its current state could come close-enough to HAL 9000 for this particular task, and assuming that there would be demonstrable interest in the product in the first place). 
It could perhaps be done, but not easily and not realistically by an industry outsider like myself: a non-technical solo founder. It’s the type of challenges that you’d typically expect a graduate or post graduate from Stanford or MIT to be working on — not a mason who’s dropped out of college.
And so I felt I needed to leverage my position and credibility by doing something else first that was more within reach; and so I parked the social network at PreAcquaint.net for the time being and created “the new” PreAcquaint.com to be a content site, which can be more easily made to undergo “soft” pivots without having to have the entire site re-coded. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the jury is still out on that one.
Back to my main point, searching on Google is not an end product in itself. The discovery that results from having searched is the true and only end product.
As an example, you could be searching your entire life for a suitable partner (and some people do), but you won’t have a relationship until you discover that individual.
We search in order to discover. We can also discover without searching, and that’s a big fact of life. It’s what we call serendipity. We also rely on curation by others in whom we trust in order to discover new things to be, do and have.
Curation is built in every facet of our lives. We choose a particular retail chain over another, or a restaurant, museum, etc., largely because what is on offer has been curated. Word of mouth is basically curation.
Curation is a mechanism through which discovery can be regulated. If you think about it, there is so much that each one of us could potentially discover in the world that we’d realistically never get to, due to our limited life span of approximately 80 years (if we’re lucky).
For instance, devote the rest of your life exclusively to be studying mathematics — everything closely related to it and everything ever published about it — and you likely won’t have the time to get through it all; and you will by default have missed out on everything else, including having a family and a social life, as well as every other topic, such a fashion, politics, biology, aviation, marine life, etc. I’m exaggerating, of course, in order to hopefully drive home my point.
If the above example didn’t convince you, maybe this one will: devote your entire existence to be watching *all* of YouTube’s content, at the exclusion of everything else, and of course you’ll soon realize that it’s an impossibility.
But at the same time, we could leverage technology so as to maximize our individual discovery output (or is it rather input?) Think about all the things we could discover that we’d otherwise never get to if we could optimize the process through which discovery is made.
Imagine having at your disposal the ability to make profoundly better choices about where to live (and perhaps with whom), with what products, eating what food, down to what career, activities and entertainment would truly fulfill you; not to mention what treatments would optimize your physical and mental well-being and so forth.
Google Search was a great innovation, and it is still utterly amazing at what it does to this day, but having “curation on steroids” through AI has got to be the way of the future, IMHO.
Having access to truly powerful curation in multiple facets of our lives, powered by big data algorithms, would yield the power to dramatically impact our existence. The limiting factor would be reduced to our *willingness* to engage at that point, rather than not having the *ability* to do so.
I'm not in a position to offer suggestions as to what the technology needs to be; and I suspect this is old news for many elite computer brainiacs around the world, but writing it down has proven beneficial on a personal level, as it has made "the path ahead" clearer to me; and again, this is currently why I keep a blog.

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