Future of Content Distribution, Discovery & Consumption

Internet has never had a problem with content quantity and quality. It has always been full of content – some which are great and some not-so-great – produced for people to consume at their leisure. The problem it’s always had – on both ends of the spectrum (publisher and consumer) – is with distribution of all this content: Making relevant content available for people who wanted to consume – in whatever form of the verb (read, watch, view, etc.) – to be able to consume it at their disposal when it’s relevant for them.

While this problem may not be the exact description that people have expressed their frustration about or worked on to fix in the last 15 years of major internet evolution, it’s easy to see that this is the core problem that resulted in the formation and creation of some of the most profound innovations of the internet that we use today.

The Beginning Phase of Modern Internet: Email & RSS

The “modern” RSS, most credited to Dave Winer, was created in 1997 with the simple, yet core, mission to “offer much more timely information”. This paired with content available on the web – very much “hidden” and “unavailable” to consumers to discover and find – with email and RSS allowed for friends to find and share articles from and to each other through the email chains and lists. This was also the formation of the first digital representation of the true offline social graph. This social relevancy and virality found through social graphs would return a decade later to lead a new stage of content distribution evolution.

But due to culture and environment of human behavior during this initial stage of modern internet (largely in regards to privacy), the world needed to wait until a 21-year old by the name of Mark Zuckerberg would create a company that continued to press for a “more open and connected world” and allowing the rest of the world to follow theZuckerberg Theory of sharing more and more every year which would fuel the formation of our true offline social graph represented in our online social graph.

Search and You Shall Find: Google (Search Engines)

As much improvement email and RSS technology brought to theproblem, someone within a specific social graph was responsible for injecting the content into the graph. Finding that content couldn’t all be achieved exclusively thru RSS. Certain content was something that was outside of sites and publishers you’d explicitly subscribed to. Theproblem still existed.

Enter search.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin had an enormous vision for the next stage of Internet evolution. They were going to crawl and index every single content the web had to offer. And that’s exactly what Google did.

Having the data to be able to provide results to searching of content opened up the other half of the source of content injection into social graphs. Because in the act of explicit active content discovery – opposite of passive and implicit discovery achieved through receiving email and RSS – one needs to specify what they are seeking for (Google query) and be able to get relevant content in return. Albeit, Google’s approach to search left out the core human nature element of social relevance.

The fact is, there is only one way anyone discovers or finds content:Your Social Graph.

TV, websites, conversations with friends and family or whatever may be the initial source of discovery of “content”, they are all part of your social graph. Your true social graph is literally everything and anything that is around you which influences you in one way or another. My detailed thoughts on this, I’ll save for its own post in the future, for the sake of staying on point. But the symbiosis of this true social graph to the online social graph didn’t form until the introduction of the ever-so-controversial Facebook Newsfeed led by then, a 22-year old Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook Newsfeed: Implicit Discovery of Socially Relevant Content Through Implicit Personalization

When the Facebook Newsfeed was introduced in 2006, critics and most users worldwide dismissed and completely underrated the utility of what Newsfeed was aimed to achieve. They labeled their witnessing of the first convergence of your true social graph and its behavior – the current frontier of the content discovery and consumption evolution – as an “advanced stalking tool”.

The Newsfeed powered by their filtering algorithm (commonly referred to as EdgeRank), was the first time in the history of Internet where your true social graph was digitalized into the fold of the web to respect and mimic the human social behavior in content discovery and consumption. The data that Facebook has of its users’ preferences, interests and influences allows for near-perfect representation of one’s social graph and its individual node level of influence, which results in discovery and consumption of socially relevant content – all through implicit personalization. This approach to implicit personalization has one huge flaw, where one factor is responsible for its successful implementation: % of one’s true social graph being represented within the online platform. Fortunately, for all of us on the ride in the evolution of content discovery and consumption, and for Facebook, over a Billion of the world’s population is actively represented. Chances are, if you have internet connection and we share enough nodes within our individual social graphs for you to be directed here and be reading this, your social graph on Facebook is highly similar to that of your true social graph.

Currently, Facebook is the only company in the world with enough direct social graph data to create the most perfect form (at least comparatively) of implicit personalization. That’s what Facebook is – a platform for current evolution phase of content discovery and consumption. Do this for me: Go to any major publisher site (The New York TimesHuffington Post, or for sports fans, ESPN) and take a look at it for a bit. Websites today are static and irrelevant to a large degree. For me, as an example, I’m a huge sports fan and when I visit ESPN, I find maybe one or two articles that I view relevant enough for me to read it – with the rest, potentially tens or hundreds of articles and content, being buried underneath the noise. In the next few years, websites will no longer have same messages and content for everyone, but rather completely personalized in terms of the content (and even layout and design) served completely through implicit personalization powering implicit discovery based on what I like and prefer.

This kind of implicit personalization is already possible today – because Facebook’s platform serving as the social graph and acting as the foundation to individual publisher’s data about a specific visitor’s past engagement history and preferences of content. Supplemented with Twitter’s open data of user’s tweets and engagement to certain objects, everywhere about the web becomes personalized to what’s most socially relevant to you – foreshadowing the level of personalization that will soon be achieved in the physical world through various other non-software technological innovations.

But before the Internet converges into the physical world, there will be one more stage of evolution in Internet content discovery and consumption.

Convergence of Explicit and Implicit Discovery – Powered by Social Graph

Many people state that “social” is opposite to “search”. That’s not correct. However, explicit discovery (what you and I call “search”) is opposite to implicit discovery (what many people call “social”). But social is not just implicit discovery. In fact, social is what just happens to power implicit discovery (current stage in evolution which is led by Facebook). Social is not exclusive to implicit discovery. To think that would be foolish. “Social” is just an engine that lives on Internet that is the closest mimic form to our true social graph and social behavior. As mentioned before, the social graph influences all aspects of our lives including our thoughts, interests and actions.

Everything we perceive to be relevant is the result of our social graph. (Social graph is not just people). This underlying realization of human social behavior is exactly the reason I believe the current iteration of Facebook’s Graph Search is just the tip of the iceberg of what they aspire to build out and also why I believe Larry Page is “betting the farm on Google+”. Google has the world’s most profound data on backlinks and page authority which powers PageRank to rank the most relevant site results and fight spam based on contextual analysis. Facebook has the world’s social graph (at least the form that’s closest to the true social graph in the physical world). Having “social” become the engine for explicit discovery will have antiquated the level of relevancy one may experience in the current best forms of search engines.

The interesting thing to note is how the solution to improving on existing “solutions” is based on how close the core engine of the process in use (in this case “social” vs. non-social) is to the representation of our true social graph. 10 years ago, there were no online representation of true social graphs, the next best thing was analyzing personal relevancy through contextual factors such as text and backlinks. Today, Facebook owns the world’s online social graph which allows them to set the new standard for content discovery and consumption. 10 years from now, there will be another company with its core engine being something that’s even a closer representation of our true social graph and even ourselves that antiquates Facebook in the next major evolution of content distribution, discovery and consumption.

Convergence of Online Personalization Platform into the Physical World

Imagine a world where we’re all connected and experience implicit personalization of everything around us and everywhere we go in all aspects of our life through a potentially pure form of our true social graph. I’ll let your own imagination picture it.

That’s not a world we live in now – but we’re not far away. The next major evolution of content distribution, discovery and consumption requires hardware to catch up – where “mobile” converges with the world’s connectivity further and the word “mobile” won’t just mean smartphones anymore. Shortly after, “mobile” will no longer mean carrying hardware, but rather be replaced with “self” – where the digital connectivity of Internet (software engineering), hardware (electrical and mechanical engineering), and our own biology converge together – the final frontier.

I’m excited for our future. And even more so, to play a part in leading the next evolution of this world’s connectivity and personalization with my generation.