Browsing and searching are not the same thing. Anyone who has sat on the couch trying to figure out what to watch on Netflix knows this. With so many choices available, there’s bound to be something
Seth Godin wrote a blog post about this recently. How do we find what we didn’t know we wanted to find? We’re pretty bad at this in the digital world, but truth be told, we’re not that great at it in the offline world, either. At least, I don’t think we are.
I love going to my local library. Books smell amazing and even though I have this annoying tendency to buy a book that I know I’ll only read once, the public library’s collection dwarfs my own. But when I don’t really know what I want to read, I just sort of wander the shelves and judge books by their covers. Or their spines, in most cases.
Amazon is one of the few sites that seems to tackle this really well. Their recommendations aren’t always on the ball, but I’d rate them well overall. Having enough data to tell me what people who bought one item also bought is a huge part of making good recommendations.
I would have loved a similar recommendation engine was when I was putting together my plan of study for graduate school. I essentially had the entire University course catalog at my disposal. If I could make the case to my committee that it was a good course for me to take, it was all mine. But with so many courses to choose from, how would I know what to pick? I was forced to browse manually, but a recommendation engine would have really helped.
That’s one reason I like traditional radio stations and services like Pandora: I don’t have to search. I can start with a general genre of music I want to listen to and then I get to browse. I credit Pandora with the tremendous broadening of my musical tastes that happened in the late ‘aughts.
I look forward to a time when browsing is easier. Just think of the undiscovered gems we’ll find.