Today, we live in a world where we’re constantly overwhelmed by information. There are over 90M tweets per day, 34 hours of YouTube video uploaded every minute, and every Facebook user has an average of 130 friends who are becoming more and more active all the time. We also experience this with content farms flooding search results and with the thousands of articles available everyday on traditional websites like the New York Times and ESPN: of which only a handful appeal to each of our individual interests.
The rampant proliferation of information isn’t a new phenomenon. The signal-to-noise ratio on the web has fluctuated substantially as new technology to organize information has battled with new technology to create and distribute information.
In the early days, content was created and organized by professionals. At first, it was contained in networks like AOL, one of the pioneers of the Internet. As the Internet opened up, Yahoo! brilliantly organized the open web with Yahoo! Directory. But eventually the volume of the information overloaded even the directory, and search companies like Google introduced a better way to find content we were interested in. By understanding how sites linked to each other, Google applied new science to find a solution within the problem itself. It worked so well, every website is search engine optimized for this framework.
In 2003, user-generated content hit the mainstream via sites like MySpace and YouTube, and the volume of information being created increased dramatically.
“Every two days, we create as much information as we did up to 2003.” –Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
Search engines weren’t designed to effectively organize this social and real-time data. So innovative companies like Facebook and Twitter created a social filter by empowering our friends and people we trust to organize information for us. This new filter has given us access to more and better information than we ever thought possible. Like search, it’s so effective, every website is socially optimized for this framework.
Many of you reading this are avid users of social technology. Like me, you’re probably beginning to experience information overload in your social streams. There’s great content there, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find it. In engineering terms, the signal-to-noise ratio is dropping (or, as a corollary, the work-to-reward ratio is increasing). And, as more people become more active in the social and real-time web, the problem will only get worse.
Imagine opening up any web page or application and being presented with an experience that’s entirely personalized to you. Go to ESPN.com and see stories about the sports you love and teams you follow featured on the top. Check your daily Groupon for deals that map to your interests. Receive updates from Foursquare about restaurants you’ll want to visit. This is where things are headed. It’s about shifting from you trying to find the right information to the right information finding you.
In the past, we lacked the data and the technology to make this type of personal experience a reality. But that’s changing quickly. The abundant social data that’s overwhelming our social streams not only presents a problem but the solution. Using natural language processing and semantic analysis to evaluate your tweets, status updates, like, shares, and check-ins, it’s possible to build a holistic understanding of who you are and what you’re interested in.
Once the web knows your interests, it can start to change… Any website or app can use knowledge of your interests in order to give you a personal experience.
Music followed a similar evolutionary path. Music discovery has grown from being curated by professionals (DJ’s, MTV) to being introduced socially (mixed tapes, playlists) to being organized around your personal interests (Pandora).
All of this doesn’t mean that editors go away or your friends’ referrals don’t matter. Rather, it’s a new lens focused entirely on you.
Incredible academic and commercial research in the fields of natural language processing and semantic technology has built the groundwork for where we are today. Still we have a long way to go before the personal web is a reality. Gravity will be one of many companies working on the personal web in the coming years. Our platform will allow partners to personalize their experiences when a user connects to the service. The basis for our platform is what we call the Interest Graph, an online representation of your interests, including your strength of attachment and its trajectory over time.
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