A decade ago most of us were using AltaVista or something similar for search. No one was really complaining very much about the huge amount of spam and other noise that cluttered the results because we didn’t know there was a better way. Then Google came along with Page Rank, and had a profound effect on the quality of Internet search. Suddenly (and it really was that sudden), we couldn’t imagine going back to AltaVista and searching pages of results for the thing that Google gave us immediately.
For a good history of search, get John Battelle’s book The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture.
The online social landscape today sort of feels to me like search did in 1999. It’s a mess, but we don’t complain much about it because we don’t know there’s a better way.
Everything is decentralized, and no one is working to centralize stuff. I’ve got photos on Flickr, Posterous and Facebook (and even a few on MySpace), reviews on Yelp (but movie reviews on Flixster), location on Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla, status updates on Facebook and Twitter, and videos on YouTube. Etc. I’ve got dozens of social graphs on dozens of sites, and trying to remember which friends puts his or her pictures on which site is a huge challenge.
And the amount of spam and just general nonsense that is flooding all of these services is crippling. As a user, I spend far too much time weeding it all out to find the few gems of real content from people I care about.
And I end up missing a lot of important content that I want to know about.
Someone will eventually help us make sense of all these various types of services, and help us separate the noise and spam from the real signal. I don’t know who’s going to do it, and I certainly don’t know how (if I did, I’d be doing it, not writing about it). But at some point soon, one of the Internet giants, or some new startup we’ve never heard of, is going to fix this mess for us.
I hope it comes sooner rather than later. Because social today looks a lot like search a decade ago. It’s broken, and just waiting for someone to fix it.