Here’s the gist:

  • Disruptive web innovation comes from changes in interface.
  • Interfaces, which make information easier to understand by mainstream users, create world-changing companies.
  • The next stage of the web is the Curated Web, which like the stages before, will create massive opportunities for entrepreneurs who see the trend.

Is this it?  Really?  Facebook wins, cashes in its chips, and we all go home?

Of course, there is more to come and it’s a future filled with sheer awesomeness.  Within the next few years, technology will improve your life in ways you can scarcely imagine.  But if you’re looking for where we’re headed, it’s useful to know where we’ve been and most importantly, we should know the catalyst driving us from one phase to the next.

Though tech types tend to focus myopically on the laws of hardware innovation, including those written by Moore, Metcalfe and Kryder, these principles focus on infrastructure, which is only the first phase of a rising technology wave.  After infrastructure, technology waves enter a platform and finally an application phase.  It is during the platform phases in particular that entrepreneurs build world-changing companies without much initial capital, a la Gates and Zuckerburg.  How do companies change user behavior so profoundly and produce massive growth, seemingly overnight?

I believe we can we plot the growth of online media companies against a predictive trend, like Moore’s law does for hardware.  The percentage of users creating content is a function of users’ ability.  That is to say, the easier it is to create content the more people create it.  But why should we care about content creation?  Because content creation has exponential benefit to the community and is by definition how online media platforms succeed.  Platforms must enable users to create content valuable for other users; the business’ viability depends on it and the economics won’t work any other way.

Analyzing content creation between popular companies

The trend line of the relationship between the percentage of users creating content and users’ ability, plots the history of the web and helps predict what’s next.  It was the graphical user interface, developed by researchers at Xerox PARC and brought to market by Apple and Microsoft, which made hard-to-understand DOS terminals usable and hearkened the PC revolution.  The web browser commercialized by Netscape, took advantage of infrastructure used by academics to help create Web 1.0.  Next, Facebook took technologies like BBS and RSS to the masses by perfecting the Feed.  Smart entrepreneurs, who took a technology mainstream by making it easier to use, spurred each successive phase of the web.  The interface drove innovation by making previously incomprehensible information useful, driving an explosion of new user behavior and creating huge companies along the way.

Welcome to the Curated Web

Analyzing content creation between popular companies

If you want to know what’s next for the web, look at where the interface is changing.  Listen for where non-technical people say, “There is too much going on!  Who can make sense of it all?”  That’s exactly the cry the founders of companies like Pinterest, Evernote and Tumblr are answering.  These companies mark the dawn of what I call the Curated Web.

The Curated Web is characterized by a fundamentally different value to users than the social web.  Whereas Web 1.0 was characterized by content published from one-to-many and social media was about easily creating and sharing content, from many-to-many, the curated web is about capturing and collecting only the content that matters, from many-to-one.  Like all successive phases, the curated web is a response to the weaknesses of the previous phase. Users inundated with too much content are looking for solutions to help them make sense of it all.  Curated Web companies solve this problem by turning content curation into content creation and, following the predicted trend line, they see unprecedented percentages of user participation.  Each re-pin, re-blog, re-tweet, creates a curated, easy-to-use stream for future information to flow.

By designing new interfaces, and suddenly making information accessible, innovative companies have just begun creating the Curated Web.  By extrapolating the trend line, we can expect new startups to engage even higher numbers of users in creating content by making content creation even easier.  As our ability to create content increases, perhaps one day becoming nearly effortless, we are likely to see new interfaces to help us make sense of all the data, and hearkening the next phase of the web.

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  • michaelgsimpson

    I think this is spot on. I’ve been thinking about how broken the online media product/ consumption system is ever since I read this:

    I don’t know what the new curated paradigm will look like. But i do know that my facebook and twitter feeds are a mess. Filled with stuff I don’t need. And the worthless stuff that i randomly click on – cats, 7 ways to do X, etc. needs to go. Surely this is not how people will consume media 10 years from now. There is so much garbage, so much waste, so much stuff that nobody needs.

    It’s super exciting to think about. I think there are some massive businesses to be built here.

  • Hector_Westropp

    Hi Nir! Love Hooked, great book!

    Unfortunately, a few years on and the curated web is yet to appear – at least in the all encompassing form you posit. Instead – I see areas of the web with total, if biased, curation (news media / marketing), semi curation (wiki / FB / twitter) and no curation at all (dark web / advice websites). As such, the market remains ‘free’ and the notion of authority evaporates into the wisdom of crowds – one that is inherently cautious and populist.

    My question is whether the internet’s growth has been stunted in this time because of a lack of authority in this regard – left to stagnate because we cannot trust those who curate and cannot invoke curation from non biased sources?

    My own feelings are that capitalism does not like curation (as a rule) because it often slows, stops or even contradicts the lifestyle of continual consumerism which feeds it. In an age where everything is bite sized and rhetoric led, what space is there for discussion and notions of truth?

    I hope I will be proved wrong – in a battle of truth vs rhetoric, rhetoric too often wins.

    • Nir Eyal

      I disagree with your statement that “the curated web is yet to appear” I would point to companies like Reddit, Product Hunt, Nuzzel, Buzzfeed as a few currated web companies who’s value comes from curation of other people’s content.

      • Hector_Westropp

        Hi Nir, apologies for the delay – busy travelling! I edited my comment for the sake of brevity, allow me to explain myself.

        First, I define curation in this context as a process with the sole purpose of ensuring information is true, relevant and leads to greater application.

        While I agree there are many sites or even organisations whose sole purpose is linking together strong content sources (a good example might be Mode Media), my problem is the filter they use – humans. To date (with the exception perhaps of Google who use quality scores) curation revolves around the needs of business or the desires of user groups – essentially spaces driven by advertising revenues, not by user fulfilment.

        My contention is not that curation is prevalent, but rather that it is too often designed for consumption rather than the attainment of greater wisdom – which (to me at least) is an important part of the human experience. Arguably Wikipedia extends beyond this boundary, but it is the exception rather than the rule and, while they play on social rather than economic norms to achieve their ends, are still a commercially savvy business.

        My own argument is that curation can only be optimised from the users direction, not the other way round – ie. through businesses, rather than from businesses through users.

        For example – do MacDonalds sell burgers because people want burgers (and they met the need), or because that’s what they decided to sell (and people decided they would choose to buy it). Well, while a ridiculous analogy, it points out the difference well enough – I don’t always want MacDonalds, even if I feel like a burger – I would like this to be factored into the equation too! I would state that many companies today (not all) are busy trying to tell people what they should want, rather than responding to individual needs.

        I would say that to be useful at an individual level, any potential curator must understand our tastes and preferences; predict what may be relevant and interesting; and has a sense of context or timing – showing targeted content when (or where) it is needed.

        Perhaps I am asking too much of what is an overly distrusted form of wisdom and an overly utilised form of entertainment, or indeed perhaps I am jumping the gun – that the rise of the internet of things will offset our desire for curation at a more individual and tailored level.

        The point I am making, in a somewhat roundabout way, is that people get attached to ideas because of confirmation bias and limit their view based on the needs of business or outcome. Indeed, they give more sway to those things which agree with their thinking (or goals) and distrust those ideas which cannot be reconciled comfortably.

        With content driven by an external and subjective focus, the curation is, by its very nature, tainted with at least some level of coersion – which defeats the point of the exercise in the first place.