Moving From Average Value to Personal Value in Search/News

A great discussion came out of The Testosterone Meme by Shelley Powers, who wrote about her lack of confidence in the new aggregation service Memeorandum. Shelley (and several commentors) noted that the posts that become popular on Memeorandum tend to be A-List bloggers. The A-List bloggers tend to be men, and they tend to have […]

A great discussion came out of The Testosterone Meme by Shelley Powers, who wrote about her lack of confidence in the new aggregation service Memeorandum. Shelley (and several commentors) noted that the posts that become popular on Memeorandum tend to be A-List bloggers. The A-List bloggers tend to be men, and they tend to have been around the Web for a while.

Shelley’s argument is that there isn’t enough diversity in the aggregation service. She feels that there aren’t enough women represented, and there aren’t enough voices of “little guy/gal” bloggers who write interesting and relevant content but aren’t so well connected to be part of the A-List.

The Echo Chamber Dilutes Value

Shelley, of course, is right. We’ve long known that there is an echo chamber in the blogosphere, that certain ideas are amplified depending on who said them and who linked to them. As a result, though, several commentors were very critical of Memeorandum, but Gabe Rivera (creator of Memeorandum) stood his ground and pointed out that every news service is biased in some way.

As the conversation got more interesting, I sided with Gabe, arguing that Memeorandum accurately reflects what I see going on in the blogosphere, for better or worse. I think Gabe has done an excellent job keeping out the noise, as I’ve written before, but I do feel that his strategy of starting with a few known bloggers and letting the service grow outwards will eventually be limited. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

At this point the conversation turned into a sort of anti-A-List conversation, with folks like Dave Rogers arguing that this is all just a popularity contest.

There may indeed be many elements of popularity here, but what human systems don’t include them? Isn’t it human nature to listen to people you’ve listened to before, and have gotten value from before? And isn’t it OK that they are your friends?

The Attention Economy & Unequal Value

Ok, so this stance gets me in hot water all the time. My view is that in the attention economy, you can’t just get attention for nothing. Just like money for nothing. You have to earn it, and if that means that you need to know the right people, or have certain people to link to your blog, then that’s the challenge, isn’t it?

The major argument I get is that I’m too willing to accept this as simply the rules of the game. That I’m saying it’s a market economy and it’s OK. People don’t like that: they think that it’s unfair, and that the people who enjoy the privilege of being A-List bloggers enjoy more than their fair share of attention.

So let’s assume that to be true: the long tail of blogging is sloped too steeply. What can we do about it? Can we build a system that accurately reflects value? Does one already exist?

Google Approximates Average Value

What about Google? Google does approximate value by giving weight to links. However, the increasingly obvious problem with Google is that it is approximating an average value of content, not personal value of content. This is the same problem that we have with the A-Listers. They’re not approximating value for us, but for themselves.

In other words, if I want to know what the world on average thinks is valuable, I can go do a search on Google. But if I want to know what things would be most valuable to me, I can’t go to Google. Google isn’t just approximating the weight of my links, it’s approximating the weight of everyone’s links.

Years ago, Search was so bad that this was more than enough. Now, people are getting restless with services like Google and Memeorandum because they’re not personalized enough. This is a good thing: it means that our software is improving!

Huge Opportunity to Approximate Personal Value

So there’s an opportunity for an amazing product in here. If someone can figure out how to approximate the personal value that we place on things (by looking at what we link to, what we pay attention to, what our closest friends pay attention to), they’ll create the next generation search engine. This will succeed because it is user-centric: in the end what is important to us is personal value, not average value.

Anybody know of a product that is attempting to do this?

Published: November 2nd, 2005

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