November 1, 2005

We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat

by tolles at 7:27 PM

Fred Wilson relates a series of quotes, evenutally positing that we're facing an Attention Crisis.

It's a good point, especially if you're funding (or building, or using, or particpating in) technology companies that are, essentially, monetizing your attention through advertising. The issues are slightly different for each stakeholder here -- but the issues Fred raises apply to all of us.

When we were running the Open Directory at Netscape, an employee of mine, Jim Rainey, phrased this issue very eloquently --

"Time is the one thing that doesn't scale"

Fred goes on to point out that we're all reaching (have reached) the saturation point with regard to information flow -- How many feeds can you subscribe to?

We've been here before.

When the web was a small collection of sites, you could use bookmarks to keep track of things...later Yahoo built a hand edited collection of sites...and eventually, when the web reached the 1B+ mark, you needed automation to help you find what you were looking for...

Now, Fred's pointing out that the Incremental Web of new, up-to-the-minute information is increasing faster than he (or any other reasonable person with a life) can keep up -- and that something's got to give. As Greg Linden notes in the comments of Fred's post --

I think it's become clear that it's impossible to manage the flood of information manually.

And, I'll point out, that as the number blogs goes from the millions to the tens of millions, discovery and management of information relevant to you is a problem that's accelerating in its increase in difficulty

But -- all is not lost -- in that restatement of the problem above, lies the answer -- whether you prefer Topix.net or Findory, or Google News -- you're going to need help managing your information, and looking at where the problem is going to be two years out -- it's going to involve quite a bit of automation.

Newsreaders, and reading lists are great -- just like bookmarks and web directories are great -- and all of these are part of the solution. But we have a point of view about this at Topix.net -- that there's a great opportunity to help people with this "looming attention crisis" through building products that can scale to the Incremental Web. I've gotten grief from people about the humans vs. robots thing, but it's just SO clear that you're going to need some freakin' COMPUTERS to address this issue.

Automated tagging by topic of every news story from over 12,000 sources is the measure of our current effort -- there's a lot more work to be done here, but it's great to see other folks here start to understand the problem ahead.

So, with regard to the Bigger Boat in the title...it's going to need an engine, not oarlocks.