The future of the internet

This novel concept of human curation seems to be a hot talking point from major tech companies of late.

Jimmy Iovine pegs it as a key pillar of Apple’s new music service. In previewing ‘Lightning’, Twitter’s forthcoming major feature, the company profess that its editors will help surface key content in real time relating to current events. Instagram’s new Search and Explore feature showcases curated collections of interesting accounts and places. Internet sleuths have found job postings that indicate that Apple’s new News app is staffed by human editors.

It seems curated content is king!

So why suddenly are tech companies putting such a strong emphasis on human curation?

Is it to simply establish that these products are more than just a bundle of zeros & ones and coloured pixels? That somehow curators give the product a level of sophistication, a point of difference from a competitor’s product? Are the algorithms and the like that we build so wrong so often that we need a human’s touch to uncover what’s really relevant?

This subject takes me back to a casual YouTube interview that Robert Scoble held with Trey Ratcliff back in 2011. In that interview Trey was previewing his new app, and in explaining it he mentioned his thoughts on the future of the internet. He introduced his app with this quote:

“Really what this is, is a combination of algorithm plus crowd sourcing plus curation. And I think this is the future of the internet.”

Looking back at this quote, now some 4 years later, it seems as though Trey’s prediction has been proven correct.

Reviewing my own personal habits, especially when it comes to unearthing great food in my city, I’m more inclined to use a heavily curated, editorially heavy site like Broadsheet than a foursquare or Yelp. A site like Broadsheet doesn’t let me create lists of favourites, or easily view nearby venues or give me recommendations at different times of the day all of which I’d find on a service such as foursquare. What it does provide is quality content and recommendations from expert editors - I don’t necessarily get that from foursquare (especially in Australia anyway).

In looking at my own experiences I see I’m putting more faith in a small team of experts than I am in a mass group of thousands, some semi-experts, most not. I’d love to have a service with foursquare’s features extended with Broadsheet’s editors.

So with this trend of services adding human curation it’s becoming evidently clear that algorithm isn’t the sole pillar to a successful product. While an app can source what’s popular and provide recommendations based on your habits it’s hamstrung in that whatever it does requires certain conditions to be triggered. Algorithms (well today) are reactive.

Humans fill in the grey between the black and white. Knowledgable experts base their recommendations on the intangible : who or what influenced that musician, artist or chef, why is that place/person significant to that city/genre. Humans provide context.

Having algorithm and curation working harmoniously provides the right content at the right time… and that is the internet.

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