In a nice piece in the latest newsletter from edge.org, Annalena McAfee talks about the impacts of digital technologies on modern life (check out the whole piece – it’s quite good). Her first interesting contention is that she feels that younger people are more polite, and more engaged with adults than kids were when she was young. I find this to be mostly true as well. Then she says this:
As to predictive programs and I-Tunes “Genius”, don’t they serve a useful and very old-fashioned purpose? Like your best friend, or the cheerful proprietor of the neighbourhood bookstore, or the dreadlocked manager of your favourite record shop, they know what you like and will helpfully alert you when that artist/writer or, someone operating in a similar field, is about to produce.
“You’ll love the latest Alice Munro. And if you like Devendra Banhart, check out Vetiver.” But unlike your best friend, or the long-vanished bookstore owner, or the former manager of the defunct record shop — all of whom made a number of unintentionally insulting errors of taste — these predictive programs get it right 90 per cent of the time. I am willing to trade my free will – surely already compromised by my birthplace, my parents’ religion and circumstances, my genetic inheritance — for these time-saving and life-enriching programs.
That’s a perfect description of how the aggregating sites are then able to connect – two of the three key components of many successful online business models. I think she’s exactly correct about the benefits of these services. At the same time, I share a bit of Tom Slee’s concern about how currently these models are concentrated in the hands of very large firms. Aggregating is pretty much impossible for smaller firms/organisations. But I do think that there are opportunities to become effective filters and connectors. In particular, as good as the aggregating recommendation services are, I think that there is also space for experts in a particular field to act as filters & connectors by compiling their own information sources.
This is a method that was common in the early days of the web, when the original set of links at yahoo.com were all hand-selected, and it went out of fashion as google took over. As much as I like the google algorithm for some things, it basically identifies the most popular things, not necessarily the best. If you can critically identify the best resources in a category, this has significant economic potential – even if you’re small. Maybe especially if you’re small.