Archives For Discovery

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The Internet has made the world a global village. One where it matters no more where you live to be connected with people.  It takes less time to share your thoughts with people that are with you digitally than those that you may run into physically. Location based personalization aside, everyone around the world can read the same news, get the same results when they search on a topic, see the same updates on Facebook and so on.  What exactly is this doing to our diversity?

Eli Parser discusses Filter Bubbles in his TED Talk and discusses how the Internet may be killing our diversity in opinions. The more a page gets viewed, the higher its rank gets; the higher its rank, the earlier it appears in search results; the earlier it appears, the more it gets viewed – this certainly can be a diversity killer.  This is more of an issue with social opinions and content – nobody wants to be that guy (gal) that stands out with a controversial opinion.  I do wonder about just how much Quora’s algorithms are able to extract and get visibility to the under-viewed and yet good content.  The reality is that the more upvotes an answer gets, it is likely to continue getting more upvotes in future.  Facebook and G+ are no exceptions. Our friends’ likes on a picture make us want to stop and look at it – and more often than not, we may end up liking it too.

Let’s look at the physical world here.  This phenomenon was certainly always present, but it was localized.  The Internet has taken a local phenomenon and made it global.  Is this a problem?  In more dimensions that we can imagine, this is generally a good thing.  It has reconnected us with lost friends and has made the world a smaller place.  But the culprit here seems to be the increasing consumption of content online.  We used to have several sources of content in the past – newspapers, magazines, television, etc. Increasingly, it is all converging to be online.  Our ranking algorithm was previously via word-of-mouth recommendations.  A friend asked us to check something out – in the process, we found something else and asked someone to check that out.  There was scope for interesting discovery.  We talked about opinions in smaller circles – there was room for potentially having varied opinions and not being the loner.

Now we are online and our opinions are too. When we say something, it is visible to a large audience, all at once (unless you have extraordinary patience to compartmentalize your audience).

Are we slowly killing the power of having different points of view?  If we are, that would also kill creativity and it will become a threat to innovation. Before that happens, our algorithms need to start having a measure of interesting and good that is independent of likes/views/votes so that we can take the road less traveled sometimes.

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I read these articles about apps we can’t live without or the top X must have apps on iOS or Android every so often.  There are some usual suspects on those lists and then each list has a few new ones to provide that unique twist on the particular write-up.  So, I got to thinking – what is the one app I cannot live without?  And, I struggled to come up with an answer.  In the process, I realized that I use my phone as my primary “personal computing” device.  And it is a device with a collection of apps that I cannot live without! 

If I go through my day, I spend a good amount of time with my Macs.  Both the Mac at work and the Mac at home.  And yet, I think the Macs have become the secondary computing devices.  At least as far as my “personal” computing needs are concerned.  Starting from consuming news to writing Google Docs, I do a lot on my phone.  The extent to which I use the phone for various things varies – I almost exclusively consume news on my phone and almost never draw or manipulate images on it!  But the key is – when I need a computing device, the first one I reach out to is my phone.  

I schedule things that can really use a bigger screen and a better keyboard and queue them up for laptop time.  When I am at my laptop, I take care of such tasks.  But, by and large, much of the computing power I need is wrapped up in a much smaller form factor.  This makes it very hard to narrow down to the one app I can’t live without.  Or even 5 or 10 apps I can’t live without!  

Very fundamentally, I go to my phone to discover information.  Now, is that an app?  I use several apps to accomplish that.  Depending on the type of information and depending on who the information is from.  GMail.  Flipboard.  Quora.  Twitter.  Redfin (real estate has been slowing down my online activities lately!).  Camera.  Kindle.  YouTube.  Pandora.  Yelp.  Whatsapp. Hangouts.  Calendar.  Evernote.  Pulse.  Houzz.  Instagram.  Heck, I’m well over 10! 

I since then realized, though, that I could name the one app that I can live without.  And that is Facebook – no points for guessing!  I once uninstalled Facebook from my phone because I couldn’t take the lousy implementation and what it does to my phone’s performance and memory.  And I didn’t miss it at all!  The only reason I use it is because I try a lot of apps out and use the Facebook login as part of the onboarding precess.  Not having the Facebook app means I have to separately log into each one of those apps.  So, it has become a convenient platform, but not so much an app of incredible use on its own!  If more apps used G+ as an acceptable social id, I wouldn’t need it at all! 

This isn’t to pick on Facebook.  But, really that the point of view of looking at any collection of apps as the driving force behind smartphone use is flawed.  The primary computing device is getting smaller and smaller.  Apps need to fill the gaps for all the things the users want to do on these small devices.  Apps are part of a supporting ecosystem – a crucial one no doubt!  But, discovery needs to be more of a fundamental quality of the device itself.  Because discovering information is what these devices are increasingly about!