The Next Chapter in Online Content Discovery

Content Evolution

Over the past two decades we have seen an evolution in the way we discover the content we consume online. I wanted to chronicle this evolution as well as offer a better way to take advantage of the next chapter in content consumption.

Mega Portals Dominate
Many of us only faintly remember a world before the world wide web and the Internet. A world dominated by online services Prodigy (1990) and AOL (1991). While today these services look like walled gardens, in their day they provided the first national access to online media when compared to the local BBSs that came before them. Both Prodigy and AOL built huge newsroom staffs as well as partnerships with existing offline content providers to bring news, reviews, weather, and sports online in mass for the first time. While these services eventually went on to provide internet access, these mega portals maintained a strong editorial voice over the content they made available to their users.

With the internet boom came the growth of the other large mega portals that are still hallmarks of many user's internet experience today, including Yahoo (1995) and MSN (1995). These services fully embraced the open web, yet still provided a strong editorial voice over the content they featured prominently across their sites, which continued to significantly direct online consumption.

As is often the case in technology adoption, the incumbents in offline content were late to the game. But eventually the big news brands, including NYTimes (1996) and CNN (1995), found their way online. With their popular web presences they continued to exercise the strong journalistic voice which has always been hallmarks of their brands.

Rise of Blogs, RSS, and Content Producers
Yet then something profound happened. We began to realize that the Internet as a medium had unique properties that we could leverage beyond simply redistributing offline content more broadly and cheaply. We started to realize that the web opened up the possibility of anyone becoming a content publisher. Thus came the beginnings of blogging. Blogger (1999) launched it's widely popular service along with many others to come.

With the rise of blogging came the need to efficiently aggregate and read your favorite content. The eventual popularization of RSS and their associated RSS readers, including Bloglines (2003) and Google Reader (2005), made this all possible. While many continued to rely on portals and major media outlets for their news, the best of us had moved to consuming a wide range of content produced from individual bloggers to the largest media organizations through our readers.

Social Voting and Democratic Content Curation
In the next pivot we found out that the web's value proved to be in not only allowing anyone to become a content publisher, but also to give the power of editorial voice to the masses. Anyone could recommend, curate, and discuss content online and through the laws of large numbers, the very best content could surface at the top.

Thus came the rise of social voting services to allow individual users to contribute to the curation of the best content online. Digg (2004) was the most successful to launch in the category followed by reddit (2005). In addition, Delicious (2003) launched a social bookmarking service which became equally beneficial as a content discovery tool.

The Age of Personalized Social Streams
But then the real social revolution hit us. Despite the many social networks that came before, it was Facebook (2004) that really initiated modern social networking with real identity, mapping the offline social graph, and most importantly, the news feed. While Facebook started as little more than a photo sharing site with a social graph layered on top, it continued to push the envelope and innovate with the news feed, enabling anyone to easily share what they were doing, what they were thinking, what they were reading, or even what they were eating with the rest of the world. Twitter (2006) took the very essence of the social stream and productized it in a simple micro-blogging service. These two services alone laid the groundwork for the rise of social streams, now published by many of the most popular services we use online today.

In terms of content discovery, this took the previous social voting evolution to the next logical frontier: our friends. Now we can easily share and discover what content our friends are writing, reading, watching, and engaging with. It has really empowered anyone to become a content curator with an eager audience of friends and followers. Readers can move past enjoying content discovery based simply on the popular vote to truly personalized recommendations from the people they trusted most.

Yet our understanding and use of social streams is still very much in it's infancy. During the blogging evolution, it wasn't until RSS readers were popularized that we learned to efficiently discover and consume the vast amount of content available on blogs across the web. We now need similar tools to increase our efficiency in discovering the best content from our social streams.

Yet what is unique about this pivot as compared to blogging is the problem is quite the opposite. With blogging the challenge was often finding relevant content to consume that was dispersed across the web, undiscoverable, and of varying quality. In this pivot, the content is right in front of us. It is abundant, real-time, and endless. We have already reached the point of saturation where there is too much content to possibly consume. This time around we need tools to filter, cut down volume, improve the signal-to-noise ratio, and find what is truly relevant in our social streams.

Feedera (2010) is one such attempt to build a tool to help sort through the clutter and allow us to efficiently consume the best content available through ubiquitous social streams.

The initial genesis for creating Feedera came from my own realization that I was now finding much more interesting content to consume on Twitter then I was in Google Reader. The power of Twitter as a content discovery tool lies in its ease of sharing content, ability to follow interesting people who tweet about relevant content, and it's real-time nature to surface content as soon as it's important. Yet Twitter in its raw form is ill-suited for content consumption. If you miss it in the stream, it's hard to consume later. The actual content is hidden behind non-descriptive short urls. The content is displayed as raw text with links when images or videos would be more appropriate. It's hard to discern what is hot or trending from a flat stream. It leaves a lot to be wanted as a content reader. With Feedera I set out to build the content reader that I wanted on top of Twitter.

Feedera takes the form of a personalized daily digest that delivers the best of your Twitter feed to your inbox every morning. It starts by segmenting the content into articles, photos, videos, and music and delivering the appropriate preview format for that content, including titles, description, thumbnails, and more. But more importantly, it applies a ranking algorithm to reduce the noise and surface the very best of your feed. The FeedScore algorithm combines overall popularity metrics for the content with friend relevance to find you content you're sure to enjoy.

I hope you will give Feedera a try as I would love to hear your thoughts.

Try Feedera Now!
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