Until now, the process of consuming content was of a very primitive type – Search and consume. We searched for information using certain keywords and then converted it manually to knowledge. If we wanted to access the information at a later date, we simply printed it out. If we wanted to re-search it (pun unintended) we searched it again! There was no way of storing or retrieving this data for later usage.
Enter del.icio.us, one of the first social applications.
All of a sudden, you could bookmark pages you liked AND store them too! Searching for that page on Shark bites you saw two months ago simply transformed into searching through your list of bookmarks. Your bookmarks could now travel with you wherever you went!! The sharing feature meant that now your friend could easily send you that link to the direct downloads, bypassing all the popups and ads along the way. ;-)
The process of consuming information now became three-tiered: Search, Store and Retrieve.
Somewhere between then and now, we instinctively developed a habit of consuming content, gaining knowledge, and stashing it away for further usage. A lot of Web purists call this approach as the River of News approach.
Drink hard, drink deep…
We live in a dynamic world that survives on a River of News.
The River of News concept, as described by Dave Winer, goes something like this:
Instead of having to hunt for new stories by clicking on the titles of feeds, you just view the page of new stuff and scroll through it. It’s like sitting on the bank of a river, watching the boats go by. If you miss one, no big deal.
… which is exactly how we parse our daily newspapers for news! If a story is interesting enough, it will be back again the next day. If it ain’t, down it goes…
The River of News concept assumes a relaxed outlook towards the consumption of content by any user. It relies on the fact that if an older item is to be revived, then it will be revived, no matter how or why*.
The only hitch to this concept is the duration of focus in an avergae human. Somehow, the concept of a limited attention span has seeped on to the Web. Conversations (a.k.a posts, articles, etc.) have a specific life span depending upon a variety of factors, ranging from authority to popularity. The previous post touched upon four of these factors that I personally belive to be important.
As the river of news concept washes the Webosphere, the content generated by users (erm, I mean, the knowledge shared by the netizens) becomes outdated as soon as the attention-span of the article ends. For some posts, the span is as short as 30 seconds, for others it might last for weeks.** The keep-alive time of the post is enriched by a variety of parameters, with the element of chance also playing a significant role, sometimes.
The Bottom-line: Find, not search
Traditional Search Engines search for content based upon classifications of keywords and various natively built algorithms. Earlier, when the internet was an array of ‘webmaster-maintained’ static displays, search engines had to be relevant. In the days to come, I foresee the River of News flooding the Blogosphere: Freshness of results will definitely be paramount, then.
The trade-off between freshness and relevancy is one of the factors that will see a good sound debate in the days to come. This, unless the Blogging trend tapers off suddenly instead of continuing to rise.*
One question I have purposefully (and successfully) avoided so far is this: *Will we be able to match people to keywords? *
A search engine will match content to your keywords. But there are three Shrikant Joshis and many Shrikants and many more Joshis who are regular bloggers. How do you differentiate them? Again, what happens when you are looking for a solution to a problem? Would search engines in the (near?) future also throw up results like:
“5 user(s) can solve your problem! Do you want to hire them?”
More importantly, if they did, would you believe them?
*One of my reasons for posting this post so late (inspite of my previous assurances) was to check if there was any interest I could generate, and how it varied with time. However, I miscalculated one of the most important aspects. Subscriptions. Since I never had any audience to begin with, there was no way I could anticipate anything. That’s called counting your results before you have keywords. :)
** Wondering what category my posts fall into? Well, somewhere close to the 30 second limit.
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