Neil Thackray’s Business Media Blog

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When Battelle thinks Curation is Coming – it’s coming!

John Battelle who founded Federated Media, wrote the definitive book on how Google evolved , founded The Industry Standard and was on the launch edit team of Wired is one of the key thought leaders in understanding how the the digital world is evolving.  Without wishing to “blow smoke”, it is fair to say that when Battelle writes something, he has been thinking about it for  while and has probably got an insight thats worth thinking about.

A recent piece on his own blog postulates that the future for information discovery is in curation.  It won’t surprise you to learn that we at Briefing Media have some sympathy with that view. Battelle rehearses how the early web was organised by simple directory search engines.  As the scale of the Web grew, these became decreasingly useful and were superceded by the Google Page rank approach (he notes that this was named after Page the Google co-founder and does not refer to a web page).  With the advent of social media and the continued growth in the size of the web, the problem has now recurred.  How can you find what you are really looking for?  Interestingly he thinks that some of the answer lies in curation – the same thought that occurred to us when we were devising Briefing Media.

The web is so large that there is no one algorithm that can capture it all, and capture every nuance of every search.  Take a simple example. A user who is interested in “Android” will want to discover different documents and different related topics depending on the true search intent.  A telecoms exec may want to know about the technical aspects of the mobile operating system; a media owner may be more interested in the content applications that use Android, whilst a Sci Fi enthusiast is looking for something else entirely.   The implications of this are profound.  Not only is the content set for each of these three users discrete, but so is the taxonomy.

We can see this working amongst sophisticated social media users behaviuours.  As Battelle points out, a Twitter feed can quickly get overrun with unfocussed Tweets and too many of them.  The more people we follow the less useful the Twitter experience becomes.  Smart Tweeters have disciplined accounts and self curate.  I only follow people who Tweet about the media industry and I only Tweet about media industry issues.  You wont find out what I had for breakfast by folllowing me on Twitter.  Our own Patrick Smith who is something of an uber Tweeter has multiple accounts with different topics for each and different communities following him in each.

Whilst smart Twitter users are trying to self curate we think there is a role for the media company in facilitating this process.  There is little prospect that technology can provide all the answers, but it sure helps.  In the past few weeks we have indexed more than 40000 articles – a task tiny in comparison to Google’s but far too big to managed by humans – but whilst the technology is a necessary condition for successful curation, it is not sufficient.   So, in deciding what sources to monitor and in collecting interesting documents about Android, requires some human knowledge.  The sources we would use for this concept would differ between the media sector and  say the Telecoms sector – even though we were essentially discovering information about the same topic.

We also have to build unique taxonomies for each area of vertical interest.   At the heart of successful search and successful curation is the concept of disambiguation of terms.   This is the essential challenge that discovery now faces.  The technology never catches  up with the growth in the scale and complexity of the problem – hence the need for some human input.

One of the great challenges facing on-line publishers is how to develop better engagement with users.  Bounce rates are often 70% or higher and that  is a powerful signal that general search is often failing users.  One of our key success metrics is that we expect our approach to curation (discrete taxonomy and content set, indexed automatically and supervised and moderated by real people) should deliver a better result.  So far our bounce rate has consistently been around 30% – much better than we hoped for.

We all know that organic search is struggling with the disambiguation problem.  We also know that relevance and how to measure it is highly problematic.  Just because a Tweeter has a lot of followers doesn’t mean that the Tweets are useful or relevant to a specialist enquiry.  Page rank is useful, but does not test the quality of the content or the voracity of its provenance.  Some of the best content we have found for The Media Briefing has been on specialist blogs – often with low page rank – but highly relevant to our target audience.

Popularity measures, page rank, likes, follower numbers, user reviews (Trip Advisor) all risk being gamed.  Indeed a whole industry has grown up around helping organisations game the system.  The beauty of the curation approach that uses technology and the the skills and insights of real people, is that it can’t be gamed and the only test of relevance is the bespoke taxonomy and content sets for each area of vertical interest – and the wisdom of the curators.

 

 

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December 13, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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