Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is Curation the future of the social Web?

I was sitting on a panel moderated by Ben Parr on the subject at Parisoma with the CEOs of Scoop.it, Storify and Start-up digest. For a round up of the panel, please see: http://storify.com/philippe_cases/round-up-on-the . The panel was very thoughtful and engaging and Ben Parr, I have to say, is brilliant. He threw at the panel and the audience three bones that we could not handle and yet they are going to be a big part of the social web moving forward: the first one was email overload, the second Google+ and by the same token Google and the last one was mobile.

I guess the subject of the panel was a follow up on an article that Ben wrote about a fireside discussion between Reid Hoffman and Liz Gannes at the Web 2.0 expo in San Francisco where Reid Hoffman hinted that Web 3.0 would all be about data ( http://mashable.com/2011/03/30/reid-hoffman-data) . Another line of thinking is that Web 3.0 will be about managing information overload. As the social web is creating massive amount of data, the question is how does the user keep up and leverage the resources available around him to make sense of this massive amount of data. Whether you listen to Reid Hoffman who emphasizes structured data or the proponents of the information overload concept who emphasized unstructured and media content, it leads to the same definition of web 3.0 which is to manage the massive amount of information being created by the social media. I don’t like the idea of just managing information overload as I found it too restrictive. I think it is much more about making sense of it rather than managing it.

If the type of data is one obvious discriminator of technologies people are going to use, the other obvious one is who is going to manage and I would venture three possible venues: algorithmic, human or algorithms trained by human. At the end of the meeting, I was discussing about the latter with Andrei Ustinov who is training bots at Virtuoz to answer self service questions. Those types of bots understand what the user is asking and are able to present the right content to the user. These are trial and error systems and human needs to be there to tweak the systems.

Of course, in order to be fully complete, we would need to understand the application (what it is that the system actually does) as well as the privacy policy being used to process the data and this would make a complete web 3.0 system. Reid Hoffman approached the subject of privacy policies without calling it that as he is using the notion of explicit versus implicit data. At the end of the day, I think that this is going to be more than just a question of data being used but more what the application is doing with the data as well as the control that the user has over this data.

If you look about it this way, Curation is going to be a small fraction of Web 3.0 but probably the one with the most social impact as everybody could become medium as well as amplifier. I think there are a lot of start-up opportunities everywhere but my own personal take having been an early investor in Inquira is that the combined curation and aggregation approach holds a lot of promises as a system could look at collections of content at once rather than one content at a time, making the curation more scalable.

Another way to look at the same issue of what is Web 3.0 is from a technology standpoint. An interesting article published this morning by Edd Dumbill ( http://oreil.ly/qaBgss ) argues that Google Plus will commoditize the social layer. I will leave this assumption to him as I believe that the social layer is already commoditized by Facebook, Twitter and Google and we don't need one unified layer for everything. And he goes on to define a social layer as a layer enabling to identify, share, notify changes of address, annotate (commenting on content) and communicate. Guillaume Decugis thinks that curation will be the next layer of technology to be commoditized as it will surface the topics that a user would be interested in, both explicit (what the user is declaring he is interested in) as well as implicit. In this case, curation is the entire web 3.0.

How you define the problem is key to answer the question the panel was asked: if you are thinking about it as information overload then email management is part of the solution. In all cases, Google as well as Google Plus will be part of the discussion as technology providers as well as actor in the space and Mobile will accelerate the growth of data and provide another set of data of its own such as location as well context to start with.
I am very intrigued to see where all of this is going…..This is exciting and I am waiting to hear new definitions of Web 3.0.
Reid Hoffman widget provided by Spoke


Matt said...

I got hung up imagining a wholly-algorithmic system of curation -- very intriguing.

Although no matter how hard I were to train it, by continually telling it what I like, I wonder about its ability to lead me to new and strange content that I didn't know I would like (content which wasn't already commonly-liked by people similar to me who like the things that I already know that I like.)

Philippe Cases said...

This is one of the danger of algorithmic curation. You get what you train the engine for. Maybe it will free time to find the strange content you need in order to be fully fulfilled.