Let’s Make Discovery Great Again!

Do you ever get tired of the internet in its current, hyperpersonalized state? Do you ever long for the good old days of the web where you could stumble upon something cool and new and different and not have to search for the cool and new and different all the time? Are you tired of living in a constantly curated bubble of content?

There was a time when the internet was described as a wild west. Now we are afraid to speak freely, lest our platforms shut us up.

If you ask me, the internet has evolved into a new, hyperpersonalized form, and in the process, stripping away all of the wonders that initially characterized it. We’ve gone from the days when you could discover new things every day to being surprised when you discover something new. Discovery is not the norm; curation is. And bad curation, by both people and bots, controlling all of the messages that reach us.

When the web first launched, a raft of services was designed to help you navigate it. The earl search engines and portals, like Alta Vista and Yahoo, ingested and filed everything they could find and attempted to give you relevant results and other stuff that might surprise you.

I recall running an ideation session at Yahoo Music and discussing how when a user asked for a specific kind of music to be played, one of the ideas we came up with was to randomly insert a piece of music that wasn’t in the user’s preferred genre, just to urge the user to listen to something new. Sure, they could skip it, but in many cases, the surprise drove that user to discover more of the other type of music, expanding g the bubble of music they listened to.

Services like StumbleUpon literally sent you to random sites, and StumbleUpon wasn’t the only service that did this. But StumbleUpon closed up in 2018. Over time, fewer and fewer sites and portals helped you to discover anything new – and now they are all the same – site after site and engine after engine deliver the same boring results.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too happy about this predicament. Without exposure to the new and different, it’s almost impossible to perceive the juxtapositions which drive innovation. How can you build innovative new products and services if you can’t even think outside the box? We are trapped in a box of curation, and no matter where we go on the internet, we bang into the walls of the cube.

So how do we break out of it? We have to force ourselves to go to new places, spaces that might be a little scary, a little on the edge, like Substack, Reddit, 4Chan, Twitch, Rumble, Telegram, or Discord. Or spend more time in the physical world, in new places, and meet new people. Use services like LunchClub or Meeow, which connect you with random people.

We, humans, learn by helping our neurons make new connections with each other, and we can only expand those connections in our brains when we experience new things in the world. And the current state of the mainstream internet is currently the complete opposite of that, designing a perfect experience every time, which continuously morphs into the most compelling thing we have ever looked at. It’s more addictive than the most addictive drug (I’m sure that it would be illegal were it a real drug) and rarely leads to more innovative thinking.

We need to make a conscious choice to make discovery great again. Try something new right now; it might just be exactly what you need.