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Discovery versus Search October 17, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in discovery, Search, time poor.

I’ve posted in the past about the difference between internet users who are time rich and time poor.

Time Rich people use the internet to kill some time. They are bored. They are willing to be diverted and entertained.

Web services based on discovery are often useful to the time rich. Last Sunday’s NY Times has a good article on one of the leading discovery services, Stumbleupon. Since its acquisition by Ebay, Stumble has continued to add functionality and grow:

In recent months, StumbleUpon has added the ability to stumble through specific sites, including Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube, TheOnion.com, CNN.com and PBS.org.

It is when you are stumbling through YouTube or through Web videos in general that the StumbleUpon experience most resembles the TV remote — though one that tries to serve up programming to match your interests and whose suggestions get better with time.

That is one reason Mr. Camp is confident that StumbleUpon, or some other discovery service, will become a Web-wide hit over the next few years, as people increasingly shift their consumption of media to online from offline. “People aren’t going to stop channel surfing just because they don’t have a TV and they have laptops instead,” he said.

My hypothesis is that discovery works best when the cost of being wrong is very low. With Stumble, you get presented new websites (or videos, or news stories) and can almost instantly figure out if they are of interest to you. Channel surfing works similarly – you can often quickly identify if a show is of interest, especially if its a show that you’re somewhat familiar with. Browsing through Flickr’s interesting pictures works that way as well.

But some other forms of content (e.g. music, audiobooks, novels, movies, video games) can take you a little longer to tell if you like them or not. Songs often take more than one listen to develop an appreciation. Audiobooks and novels require a commitment of at least 15-30 minutes before you get drawn in. Completely new movies are the same way. If they are not interesting, then you’ve wasted a meaningful amount of time – the cost of being wrong is higher. This makes you less willing to keep on “discovering” more content at random – you want more data (e.g. reviews, plot summaries, information on the actors/bands etc) before you’re willing to try something new.

Do readers have any thoughts on this?


1. Ted Rheingold - October 17, 2007

Perhaps discovery services for video, audio, etc could offer the meta data you refer to as well as social metadata a la “Pop Up Videos”

So more then just landing on the YouTube page you can see an overlay of as much relevant info as possible so you brain can do the “blink” thing and decide if you want to stay or click away.

2. BetterLabs - October 17, 2007


This is right on. I have felt a great need for “discovery help” when reading news/blogs in specific areas of interest. Techmeme and Techcrunch are great to stay up to date on the latest, BUT they don’t really serve the purpose of finding really useful and relevant blog posts/articles. Your blog is a great example – I rarely find it come up on Techmeme and yet it has a ton of valuable information that is very relevant to me. Good that I know where to find it and I check it every once in a while. But I am definitely missing a lot of “similar” ones that may be a valuable resource. Some sort of a discovery/recommendations engine can be of great help. There is a lot that doesn’t get the attention it must. Discovery/recommendations systems can definitely fill that gap…of course there are challenges/hurdles to overcome.

3. Danny - October 17, 2007

While random discovery site might simply provide entertainment value, non-random discovery sites can be very useful for time poor users. Netflix and Amazon help users discover content through recommendations without the user having to spend additional time watching.
Perhaps you are including this discovery process in your definition of search.

4. Joe (Flixster Co-Founder) - October 17, 2007

yeah, damn right. For movies in particular you really want the trusted review of a close personal friend. 🙂

~joe G
(co-founder Flixster, a site where people share movie reviews with close personal friends)

5. waynemulligan - October 18, 2007

I agree with your basic framework about abundance of time and how it relates to the cost of being wrong. The other side of that is the benefit or perceived benefit in being right. Finding a web page doesn’t quite have the same perceived value as enjoying a quality film, song or book for a few hours — so, as you said, investing the time into the discovery of a lower value commodity (as perceived by the user/consumer) isn’t worth it for someone who is time poor, but if the perceived benefit of the commodity is high enough, then the discovery mechanism works just fine.

6. Nitin Rajput - October 18, 2007

* Interesting – mapping time rich and time poor to discovery/search.

* Another pretty core and obvious thing is when user doesn’t know what [keywords] to search for, and then browse/discovery is the only option left – irrespective of the time factor. Thats the reason, why despite having good search, ecommerce sites would still have a pretty neat browse structure – users simply dont know what exactly to search for and browse gives them an easier way to locate “good” products . see this http://www.guuui.com/posting.php?id=1646, see browsing related answer on http://www.comparisonengines.com/?p=73

* another direct example would be – if I like crouching tiger, hidden dragon ; and I want to know similar movies to watch.. try to get this info thru search – its tough .. an easier way is to go the crouching tiger, hidden dragon movie page on flixster and checkout the similar movies section

*What about pandora ? discovery even if it takes time can be useful, if the service provider can build on it – prevents it from being random

7. Lee Hower - October 18, 2007

I’d agree on some of the differences you highlighted here between discovery & search, and in fact wrote a post about this not too long ago (http://www.leehower.com/2007/06/discovery-new-search.html).

I think in addition to the difference in “cost” of not surfacing the “right” information, the reality today is that non-text content is still difficult or impossible to find using traditional search. The entire index structure and the search algorithms remain focused on finding text. So we still rely primarily on user recommendations, metadata associated w/ content, and other facets of content discovery services for things like movies and music.

8. Tag Team Interactive - October 19, 2007

[…] Liew had some good thoughts (as usual) about a topic very close to our hearts: discovery versus search. Within his post, he hypothesizes that “discovery works best when the cost of being wrong is […]

9. Jonathan Cottrell - October 19, 2007

As usual, Jeremy, great post. To summarize the problem with discovery vs. search, I believe it comes down to one thing: trust. Do we trust the algorithms of these various media-discovery websites? In some cases, perhaps, but only over a long period of time and as we interact with the site more and more. But what if we could immediately trust the source of the discovery information, instead? I agree with Joe: what people really want is “the trusted review of a close personal friend.”

I wrote more in depth on the topic here: http://blog.tagteaminteractive.com/2007/10/19/media-discovery-versus-search/

10. Scott Rafer - October 22, 2007

After repeatedly proving to myself that Blog Search (fresher.com and feedster.com) doesn’t exist in consumers’ minds, I generally agree — but on the effects not the cause. I don’t think that most people think about the opportunity cost of time spent looking. We calculate the opportunity cost in this community, but we’re weird and outside the basic psychographic.

I believe that normal people split their time between goal-oriented tasks, where they care about the results not the experience, and process-oriented tasks, where the journey is the point of the exercise (pardon the McZen). StumbleUpon, MyBlogLog, etc., are warmer, more fun, more analog, and more human experiences than Google search. When my resume is your data, search works fine. When humans want to find empathetic or sympathetic humans, search is beside the point.

11. Scott Rafer at Winksite » Blog Archive » Skyscanner — Great Travel Route Search and Discovery - January 14, 2008

[…] great undirected travel search, which is almost discovery but not quite. Now if I only had a Skyscanner-Dopplr mashup […]

12. A bit of casual reading before Thursday’s Presentation « Live Large - March 3, 2008

[…] A venture capital firm talks about the future of browsing https://lsvp.wordpress.com/2007/10/17/discovery-versus-search/ […]

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