Friday, July 06, 2007

Stumble Naturally

Stumbleupon - a great place to look for ideas :) It's also a good thing to do if you just want to look around the Internet for what's happening in areas that interest you. A brief outline of how it works:

1. Join and download the toolbar
2. Choose preferences
3. Start exploring by clicking on the 'Stumble' button on the toolbar

Simple - isn't it? It's also beautiful in the way it simplifies information intake based on individual preferences. In a sentence, Stumbleupon is an easy to use, community based, people driven personalized tool that combats information overload. All the words in the last sentence are taken from the About us page of Stumbleupon. Kudos to the people who are behind this great service.

However, is there a way we can simplify the system a little bit - maybe eliminate a part of the process while still delivering content that interests the users continuously while also tempting them to explore further into other areas that might be of interest? What if we eliminate the whole part of 'choosing preferences'? What, you say, is the whole purpose of stumbling if the preferences aren't fixed? There IS a way to fix preferences without users having to choose from a finite list. If Stumbleupon really wants to benefit from the Long Tail of stumblers, the finite preference list definitely needs to go. In its place, we can have 'Attention based' preferences. Have you ever noticed how we spend more time on web pages that provide information on something that's of interest? We definitely spend lesser time on content that's either of no interest or when we're unable to connect with the content.

Turns out, our attention is a measurable quantity after all - the amount of time we're spending on each page is really a reflection of how much interest that page generates. When a new user starts using Stumbleupon, pages from different areas can be displayed. The service provider may need to serve pages with broad interests initially and, by measuring the time a user spends on each page, a very personal preference chart can be plotted. I am interested in modern day knights and I somehow get to Knights Templar no matter what I do - search for it, use it as a Stumbleupon keyword, look up blogs or anything else.

Fortunately, work's already on it's way in attention measurement. Attention Trust is a step in the right direction as far as attention measurement is concerned. I personally do not subscribe to the idea of monetizing everything, but that should be a separate post. Even then, 'What we do online increasingly represents who we are' is totally agreeable.

So how do people rate? What will communities be based on? Well, if we're creating communities like 'people who like Ancient History, Internet Tools, Computer graphics, Self Improvement, humor, Animation, Classic Rock and Physics', then we're probably getting off on the wrong side of the bed. A tree doesn't grow roots only in specific parts of the soil, it grows them in all directions. Where those roots go really depends on the environment present in a particular soil area and the nutrition the tree could derive from it. Our minds, unlike trees, aren't limited to the physical space around us and, thanks to the Internet, geography doesn't stop us from exploring the vast pool of knowledge available all over the planet. A user will still be able to rate and recommend pages, but the pages will interest a smaller segment of the population. With the more than 2 million users that Stumbleupon has, and the speed at which it is growing, that smaller segment is a bigger number everyday.

The time for receiving information (and indeed, presenting it) is increasingly for a spectrum of niches within any given broad area. As of today, Stumbleupon provides 28 broad categories for users to choose from. That gives more than 250 million unique preferences a user can make. Just like colors, though, preferences aren't limited to a number. You can have more than 250 million combinations just between the blue and the green of the spectrum. Or, indeed, any other color.

The time is for teaching the machine, and the idea somewhat resonates with the theme of The Matrix. Are you game?

1 comment:

Abdul Jaleel said...

"Stumble" with 'Attention Trust' is a nice idea.

In fact 'StumbleUpon' already have this , upto some extend.

-Jaleel
www.adnomics.org