Information is more readily accessible today than ever before. Google can answer most questions in under a tenth of a second. Wikipedia has indexed over 10 million topics, exponentially more than a traditional encyclopedia or dictionary. News stories break in real time.
With all of these advancements in the volume and availability of information, why has there been relatively little improvement in the knowledge level (for lack of a better term) of the general public over the same period of time? It’s actually pretty simple – while useful, factual information is abundant so too is information that is irrelevant, incorrect, or of poor quality.
Consider the following analogy. You and I are sitting in a room, I whisper something to you but you can’t hear me. So I speak louder but as I speak I also turn up the volume of the radio sitting between us. The result is you still can’t hear what I’m saying very well. This is what has happened thus far in the so called “information age” – data is louder (more accessible) but just as difficult to hear (find).
What does this mean? First, search is in its infancy. Currently search engines pull from multiple data points to find the most relevant information of the highest quality. Increasing the number of data points will naturally work to refine the search. That’s what Facebook, Microsoft and Google are all working on now by building social applications on top of their search technology. In the very near future you’ll be able to view search results that are not only relevant to your query but also to the group of contacts you have in your email, IM, social network, or any other online community. For example, I could conduct a search for a work related topic and the search engine would return results co-workers (pulled from my Outlook account) or professional contacts (pulled from LinkedIn) had found useful for the same topic, ranked by amount of time spent on the sites and number of repeat visits. Pretty cool, right?
But that’s only part of the solution. We’re still talking in mathematical, formulaic terms. What about a personal touch? Regardless of the level of sophistication in search algorithims there will always (although I hesitate to speak in such absolute terms) be a demand/need for some kind of human oversight.
Call it an editor, call it an internet guru, but for everything I do online (blog, buy goods/services, look for news and information, conduct traditional keyword searches, etc) I want someone or some thing to recommend completely random things that I care about but few have found/are aware of. This is the premise behind services like Reddit, Digg, and Stumbleupon but all fall short in that they rely on a voting system so something has to become popular before I learn about it.
Another site called Fark does things a bit differently by employing real humans to select a small number of user submitted links that they find interesting or funny. As a result, Fark does a much better job at consistently posting links its readers enjoy because there’s human oversight and thus no way to game the system. I want Fark for the entire internet – search, e-commerce, entertainment… everything.
Not possible/scalable? No, today it is not but tomorrow it just may be 🙂
Update: We have a nice little discussion going in the comments section. Mr. David O. brought up some good points and I was able to explain my position a bit more succinctly .