Twin trends: Discovery and Visual Social

These days, everyone wants to look like Pinterest, it seems:

Being charitable, you might wave away cynics muttering about “sad me-toos” and insist that this is a sensible and legitimate tapping into the twin trends of discovery and visual social…

Discovery

As Stumbleupon found early on, discovery is an important user need. It’s one that the giants of the web still do poorly, or relatively poorly, leavingĀ opportunitiesĀ for newcomers (Pinterest, The Fancy, etc). Amazon was celebrated for its “customers who bought this also bought” innovation early, but today the feature seems stale. It works, but it doesn’t work that well.

We ran some focus groups at Brilliant Noise about how people research purchases recently. People had all sorts of techniques for working around what they saw as the sterility of Google’s search results (post-Panda and Penguin, Google results may be more legitimate and SEO-free, but they are also predictable and boring – a colleague described them as “The Daily Mail of search engines” – for some) when looking for things like furniture, clothes and restaurants – you know, things where they sometimes want something new, something different.

Google is great for finding things if you already know what you want. Social networks – especially the serendipity engine that is Twitter, can be good for discovery, but the mass of discovery apps on a platform like Spotify shows an appetite for curated recommendations of people beyond your circle of family and friends.

Taste is so personal in most things, especially in music, that being shown all of your friends’ and colleagues’ favourite tracks can sometimes be more awkward and embarrassing than anything else (“Really, they like [insert name of group your tribe of aesthetes use as short-hand for tired nonsense]…”).

Algorithms can be as unreliable as friends at predicting what it is you want or like. That’s why there’s gold in them there discovery engine hills… A brilliant social concept for discovery, a piece of computational alchemy, may still surprise us all and become The Next Big Thing.

Visual web

I’m thinking mainly about visual social media, but we should put visual search in this category too, but the trend is clear: people like to use images to share, to find, to organise, whatever.

It may be that it is down to visual information is more attractive and faster to navigate. We saw this in our focus groups at Brilliant Noise as well: people would get around their frustration with the sterility of search engines by using image search to skim through more results faster.

Is it that images help us cope with information abundance better? My cod evolutionary neurology explanation would be that most humans are better adapted for scanning lots of colours and shapes than swathes of text to find the things we want.

This visual theme is also reflected in all sort of interfaces: Microsoft’s love of the Metro UI for Windows both desktop and phone, and the whole look and feel of brand websites like Reebok’s. At Brilliant Noise we’re working with Storystream, a really cool service for curating and story-telling in Flipboard-like web app.

Anyway, just some thoughts there on a couple of closely linked trends – I’d be really interested in any visual web or discovery examples you have seen and liked (or loathed) recently…

Image: Storystream’s app for Goodwood Revival