Two weeks ago, I wrote about the increasing attention crisis facing many of us as we work to find relevant and beneficial content from the many different sources that are challenging us for our time and energy. The gist? More content is being created in more places and "can't miss" content is increasing at the same rate, making many of us feel we are constantly in a state of missing things, forced to chew through the noise to find the best updates, but still falling short.
I believe we are on the cusp of a massive change and opportunity on the Web today - one that will no doubt be debated, but one that I am seeing morph in front of us, as the Web evolves, and initial problems are considered solved, while new ones crop up.
The First Wave: Information and Access
The first wave of the Web, and even precursors to the true Web, like Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL, was to deliver information, to connect information, to make it available, and eventually, searchable. The first wave saw the building up of an infrastructure of pages with links and images, audio and video, with structures based around links to show how pages and things were connected. This first wave of the Web was all about information posting, discovery, search and retrieval.
While it may initially have seemed the "winners" of this game would be those providing access to the Web, including ISPs like AOL and Earthlink, browser providers like Netscape, portals, such as Yahoo! and Excite or commerce engines like Amazon and eBay, the largest victor turned out to be Google, who made this massive information pile easily discoverable, monetized and fast to access. While many many other companies made money of information and various pieces of this wave, Google emerged on top of the first wave.
The Second Wave: Social
The second wave of the Web, which is still ongoing, is that of social. With an infrastructure in place to post information, transfer it from person to person and place to place, the friending experience of social connections was duplicated, from offline to online. Sites like Friendster and MySpace erected networks were you could connect person to person and see photos, get reminders on birthdays, and more. Plaxo connected your offline Rolodex. LinkedIn replicated your business network, and Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Foursquare have emerged to be powerhouses in terms of sharing your every move, by video, by photo, location check-in and status update.
Now, we connect to people and follow or friend one another the way we once searched for keywords and news listings. In this wave, Facebook looks like the clear winner, if there must be just one, setting the agenda for how friend relationships are measured, and counting registrations in the high hundreds of millions. YouTube is the default for sharing video, while Twitter has carved out a solid niche for short updates, and Foursquare is the location space innovator, but Facebook is the giant in the second wave, whose numbers dwarf all challengers.
The Third Wave: Personal
Now that the world's information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension - one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, I believe, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual's preferences - explicitly stated or otherwise.
The declaration of the next wave of the Web being personal is not shared universally, of course. Some say the next wave is all about mobile. Others may say the next wave is all about location. But the right approach to 'personal' absolutely encompasses each of these things. With our smartphones and tablets being increasingly powerful, they are practically an extension of us, and we are relying on them to discover relevant things, content, places and products for us as individuals. Similarly, our location is an ingredient of who we are - for where we are impacts our decisions, and what tips are relevant, be it for news, for restaurants, lodging, dating or anything else. So "personal" as an individual is both local and mobile.
Personal As In Me.
A lot of services say they are "personal", when in fact, most of what they do is actually social.
These services may leverage your social graph to provide personalized recommendations based on what friends or other people similar to you may like - much like television shows group people of similar demographics to guess what commercials are best suited for which episodes in which time slots. The hope may be that the more your friends like something, the more likely you are to click it or buy it. Peer pressure, you know. Meanwhile, other services say they are personal because you have specifically provided them with information about you and what you like, which goes partway to discovering your interests, but is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate, as you may want to indicate that you are something that you are not, or you may have overlooked some of your own interests in the name of rapid completion.
Beyond these initial attempts is a new wave of companies trying to crack the code of the real you. Of course, my6sense is one of those companies. Our goal is to deliver a personalized experience in all possible aspects of your life, finding the right information for you at the right time in the right context, based on you as an individual. But we are not alone. Take, for example, Hunch.com, which is talking about personalizing the Internet, and says they can build a taste profile for you, based on your own unique interests and tastes. Also, in October, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch previewed Gravity, founded by former MySpace executives. In that piece, which he headlined as "The Personalization War", he said "I saw my own Interest Graph based only on my Facebook and Twitter streams over the last several months and it’s scary-accurate."
Recommendations from Hunch.com for Me
Gravity says they will help "The right information find you. Hunch says it "Personalizes the Internet". You've heard me talk about my6sense for some time - discovering your "Digital intuition". Besides the crazy folks like us who are thinking about this constantly, there are other smart companies on the case. Start with personal recommendations from TiVo, Amazon and Netflix. Look at Google Reader Magic and Google's Priority Inbox for Gmail. Look also at LinkedIn's purchase of Mspoke for personal recommendations and Facebook's splitting of the Most Recent feed and that of the News Feed.
Get Inside My Head
The companies looking ahead to the next wave realize it is not enough to serve up the same content to everyone, as each of us is unique. We are not our friends any more than we are our neighbors or our colleagues or even our own spouses. Our interests are unique and we all want to find content tailored to our own interests. While some people are battling with the challenge of information overload and sheer noise, smart engineers are working to solve these problems - the incredible test of mimicking the human brain's ranking function, and learning what to show when, and what to make a lower priority.
The continuing rapid growth of information creation and sharing, combined with pervasive connectivity, increased capability of smartphones and other mobile devices and the growth of location is all pointing us into a direction where the services on the other end have more potential to know you than those of years past, and you have the ability to be inspired by the right information in the right place more than ever before. This is a wave, one that benefits from all these mega-changes in the Web, that small companies and big ones alike are seeing. Maybe there's another big winner in there, just like there was in the last two. Regardless, the direction is clear. Show me my Web for me.
Disclosure: I am the vice president of marketing for my6sense. Hunch and Gravity can be assumed competitors, while other companies mentioned can be considered potential partners, peers or competition, dependent on their own individual business situations.