We are the explorers of the 21st century, but instead of exploring vast expanses of wilderness and untamed territory, the wilderness of today has gone digital. Everyday the web is growing bigger with new websites, blogs and pieces of content.
As the web has gotten bigger, the number of tools to access the vast array of data has too. However, sometimes I find myself wondering if this is for the better. After all, part of the magic of the web is the serendipitous discovery of something great that can only come about from random browsing.
Now, tools are replacing serendipity, and instead of exploring a vast wilderness, the experience of the web seems to be shifting to staying inside and looking out windows, which offer a limited view of the web as a whole. Think about how much you see when you go outside instead of look out your window. Outside is 360 degrees of expansive land. Inside, you have a nice view, but you're limited by the scope of the windows.
Two ways of harnessing the wilderness that is the web come to mind specifically: social search and apps.
Social Search and the Echo Chamber
Social search allows users to leverage their individual social graphs to access information. After all, if a user's friends find something valuable, it will likely be valuable to the user as well.
The web is so big that relevance has to play an important role in delivering the right information to the right user, and social search's ability to produce results based on the behavior of a user and the user's social graph certainly means information is more likely to have relevance than information that is not.
The problem lies in the idea that we're talking to ourselves. Deriving the same information from the same people risks being in an echo chamber. All information stays in the chamber, but no additional information is added, which means less growth from an intellectual perspective.
Appification Replaces Exploration
Whether it's an iPhone, Android, iPad, Xoom, OSX or something else, apps have and continue to immerse themselves in our digital lives. "There's an app for that" has become the phrase of the day.
Now, with an app for every behavior, exploration has been replaced by apps. There's no longer a need to explore to find an answer or solution because there's a one-function program that will do what needs to be done.
These Tools Are Needed
Our digital wilderness is being tamed, and whether it's social search, apps or something else, these tools are needed. More people will be getting online, creating content and collectively, making the web a much bigger place. The tools give us the windows to see what parts of the web matter to us individually, but this doesn't mean we should forget to step outside and explore every once in awhile.