14 May 2009

The Web is a Strange Loop

In the beginning, the process of finding information on the web was largely driven by a sense of exploration and discovery. As the amount of information grew and this quest became more directed, we saw the rise of sites that provided information about this information. Sites like the NSCA and Cern meta indices became the most valuable resources on the web.

The number of sites continued to increase (explosively) and this lead to sites the provided more than simple lists of sites (organized or not). Sites like Akebono.stanford.edu (which became Yahoo) and the Netscape site (not only the index but more importantly "What's New/What's Cool") became the default starting points for any ventures into the frontier of the web.

Information on the web continued to grow (more explosively) but more importantly, so did the number of users on the web. As we passed the tipping point from the early adopter geeks (who were willing to put up with cryptic and user-unfriendly methods of finding information) and progressed into the mass market (where people needed simplicity and most importantly were not simply on a voyage of discovery) we saw the rise of searchable indices.

Eventually, Google became the default starting point for the web - as the simplest and most directed searchable index. The trouble is that information has continued to explode across the web. And more importantly, the types of information on the web have expanded immensely (along with the formats of that information). Real-time communication (twitter, IM), Video (YouTube, Vimeo), TV (Hulu, boxee) and personal data (Facebook, LinkedIn) present enormous challenges for a searchable index as a default starting point. In addition, the inevitable growth of the user base has continued - and more importantly, as usage of the web as a social medium has exploded, this user base has started to fragment and self-organize.

And now we are seeing a return to the beginning - what Hofstadter defined as a "Strange Loop" (thanks Gong) - where segmentation and curation is once again emerging as a default starting point.

If someone can figure out how to integrate Social Distribution and the power of the Stream with Curation - they're going to have a winner. At least until we cycle through the hierarchy yet again.


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