As Jeff and I were thinking about ways to integrate Google Wave on Wixity, we really couldn’t think of a totally awesome way to use it within our platform. Everything that we came up seemed like a feeble attempt to integrate the next best thing, without really knowing whether it was the next best thing.
Luckily, our distraction only lasted a few hours, and we didn’t get down the path of playing in the Wave Sandbox without a decent plastic shovel or florescent colored pale. Sometimes, trying to be early and ride the hype wave really doesn’t make sense when you think about the overall concept of what you are building. Maybe somewhere down the road we’ll find a cool way to use it, but for now we’ll stick with developing things we know people want, not things we think people may want to play with for the novelty factor.
Discovery seems to be one of those things that we don’t really spend a lot of time doing, but when it happens, it’s like our world could not exist as it once did. Whether it’s great discoveries of mankind (oh snap, the world is round) or small discoveries made by each of us everyday (Baoguette – Vietnamese sandwich shop on 25th and Lexington), the result is the same … totally mind changing.
How we find things on the web, or rather how we think the best way to find things on the web has changed dramatically. The initial thoughts were to build web portals, where anything and everything you wanted to know would be conveniently located on a single web destination. Our one stop shop for discovery. That quickly changed when consumers were not able to find the best information in one place, and instead scoured the web for sources they personally found valuable. As content became easier to publish, resident experts were now making places on the web to get very specialized information, and we needed a new way to find things.
Hello Yahoo, I’d like to introduce you to Google. Google – “We’ve got this great algorithm that scours the entire web and returns the best result. You can buy us for $1M.” Yahoo – “Well that’s silly, why would we want people to leave our site? We want people to stay on our site for as long as possible. Carry on now, nothing to see here.” (I’m still shocked that Yahoo would pass on this; if not for the not so obvious revenue model, but just to use Google’s search to discover great content to add to their own portal!)
So spurned by Yahoo, Google acquires a small company called AdSense and the rest is somewhat recent history. Google really capitalized by making a better way for users to find things. They served up what people were looking for better (PageRank) and linked it with people providing what users were searching for. Awesome, so now people can find out where to get things that they are looking for.
Often discovery is more than just finding where to get what you are looking for. Discovery is often a question of “what do I want,” versus “where do I get it.” Search does a great job of solving the “where”question (Where is Boaguette located?), but it’s not so great for the “I could really go for something sweet & spicy, but not served in a sauce with rice.” To solve that, we look to the experiences of others, and we count on their recommendations to discover new things. Search will always have it’s place, but taking good ol’ word of mouth and placing that in a useful platform on the web will open up all kinds of new doors of discovery for everyone.
Recommendation models have come a long way, but there is still work to be done. NetFlix recently ended their competition to improve their recommendation algorithm and will pay the winning team $1M. There is a huge amount of value in this space, and companies are recognizing that more and more each day. How do we capture that on the web? A difficult problem to solve, but one with great rewards.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Greg Linden, the man behind Amazon’s recommendation system, that pretty much sums it up. He said, “Whoever manages to change the nature of content display on the Web from a search problem to a recommender problem will reap tremendous rewards.” It makes a lot of sense when you think about where you got your last great restaurant recommendation.
I haven’t watched WWF, or WWE, or Friday Night Smackdown since I was a kid (see right), but after reading Wired magazine’s article on Google vs. Facebook, I could not help but think about, in my opinion, the greatest wrestling match of all time. This battle pitted the up and coming, wildly popular, eccentric and electric young superstar against the stalwart, power punching, mega-myth champion of the world. Of course, I’m talking about the headliner at WrestleMania 6 where the Heavy Weight Champion of the World Hulk Hogan fought the Intercontinental Champ, The Ulllttiiimmmatteeeee Warrrrrioorrrrrrr!
Champion against champion, title for title, that’s what it’s all about.
Google and Facebook are waging their own war on shaping what the Internet’s future will look like. They both have an underlying mission to share information, but their core approaches and visions of the web are very different. Google has historically viewed the web as the great equalizer, the place where information can be accessed by anyone and everyone, and that information can be efficiently found by harnessing the power of cold, hard algorithms. Facebook sees the web not as the source of information per say, but rather as the medium for which people can share information across their social net. Instead of relying on complex math necessarily, Facebook puts the power of human sharing in the forefront of spreading information.
Both of these approaches have their place on the web. What good is a platform to share information easily from the people that matter most if the people that matter the most can’t find the information in the first place, and vice verse? In my mind, the bigger challenges lie in front of Facebook, because the future of sourcing information from hundreds of friends (if not thousands for the Facebook junkies “power users”) will come down to powerful ranking, grouping, sorting, and prioritizing algorithms, a space that Google has done very well in.
“So wha’cha gonna do brother … when the Hulkster (read as Google) comes for youuuu (read as Facebook)!” Well, Facebook has been able to pull some ex-Googlers into their shop, to a tune of nearly 9% of their staff, and they have a virtual lock on the social network space (although I begin to worry about the hipness of it when my parent’s generation is “friending” me). As difficult as it may seem, they may be putting together the pieces and the relationships to really challenge Google’s web dominance. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll have enough to gorilla slam the powerhouse, avoid the leg-drop, and big splash their way to top, just like the greatest character wrestler of all time was able to do. R.I.P. The Ultimate Warrior.