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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?