Modern websites won’t let me find something interesting

Some content driven websites that I use are:

  • Netflix
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • Medium

Though the type of content differs they work all more or less the same. They let third parties or users produce, post and comment the content. Only Netflix has its own productions.

You may think, the websites hardly create any content, they are probably terrific to explore the content. Here’s a lot of frustration. They’re not.

Get to the content

What is very similar between these websites is how people find content. This is either done by

  • Searching
  • Timelines
  • Recommendations

Basically it all comes down to algorithms that lie beneath each way to get to the content. As users, we are more or less handed down to these algorithms.

A lot have been written how biased these algorithms are and how companies steer what we find. They also create a bubble by serving similar content to your previous behavior.

How good the algorithms really are?

When we talk about if algorithms are good or bad, we mostly mean this in an ethical sense. But what about algorithms in a more practical sense? Did a search gives you really the best results? Do timelines really get you to the most interesting posts? Gives a recommendation algorithm really a good recommendation?

In my experience these algorithms simply don’t work. It’s actually hard to find interesting and quality content. Some examples on each of the previous listed websites:

Netflix

The Netflix tiles-interface is rather simple. There are some categories, but it’s hard to find something or judge what you have found.

For Netflix, I really need to go to websites that lists all releases of last week. Very old-fashioned, like a TV-Guide, but it works. Also, I go to websites like IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes to see what is recommended or to find a list like “The best in a certain category”.

Netflix itself is not of a lot of help here.

YouTube

As hosted by a search company I have the feeling I find easily what I want. So video search is OK, but the recommendations are terrible. Especially with autoplay on, you watch the same content over and over again.

Sometimes they even play the normal version of a song and then the lyrics version of the same song and then the normal version again. Indefinitely!

It’s not even possible to say “Don’t recommend me the things that I already viewed this month” or ”Don’t recommend me videos twice”.

LinkedIn

Opposite to YouTube I find the search pretty useless. So like most social media I use the timeline which has only two ways to sort: by popularity or by new posts.

LinkedIn as a professional network you can see your peers, but not find interesting posts of likewise professionals.

Reddit

When searching for something particular, Reddit is quite OK, but with its subscription model it is good to keep your (current) interest up to date, but you hardly find something new. As with all social media timelines it’s rather time-consuming and you feel rather dumb while scrolling and scrolling.

Medium

The articles that Medium presents to its users are mostly behind the paywall. I even have trouble to find my own articles, so I don’t have a lot of trust in that Medium presents me the best results.

Content discovery

Is this just the way content driven websites work, and do we somehow need to live with it? Or we don’t.

It’s not only social media where it’s hard to find the information that you like to know or what you want to learn. When I come to a company website I really have trouble finding the information I need. And this is true for almost every company website there is.

Just go to a website of a big company. It can be any website, say for example a producer of solar panels. It’s often hard to find the products they have, where to find or buy them, what they cost and what the specs are. Also, information about the company itself is scarce: what is the (real) history of the company, what is the company structure, what is the revenue. Mostly you need to go to Wikipedia to find the thing you want to know.

Alternatives

Fortunately there are websites where you have alternatives for algorithms. These include:

  • Site navigation & Links
  • Categories & Tags
  • Stats & Trends
  • Sorting & Filters
  • Personalization

So what are the websites that offer these kinds of content discovery. Some examples:

  • E-Commerce sites
  • Comparison sites
  • Knowledge sites

E-Commerce platforms and web shops offer all kind of ways to find the product you want. Of course, they do this as otherwise you won’t buy any product. Think for example of Amazon. You can go to the book category which then contains subcategories. Then you sort and filter them by date, popularity, price and so on. Also, there is a list which contains trends or book reviews. When zoomed down to a specific book there is synopsis of what kind of content you find. Here you really can explore and find.

At Wikipedia, information is treated the same way. On the front page you find things that are in the news, an editorial pick and all kinds of categories. It’s easy to lose yourself in knowledge. Say you want to learn something about planes then there is the page:

From there you find categories of aircraft by country, design configuration, manufacturer, period and propulsion and all kinds of topics. Say for example I want to learn about Supersonic aircraft:

From there you go to pages on the Concorde or Jet fighters. In this way users can discover and learn all kind of new things.

Sometimes I think back on the early search sites (pre-Google era) with sites like Yahoo or Craigslist where you could really browse the internet and stumble in something new.

I wish social media sites would treat their content the same as Wikipedia does with information and Amazon with products.

Medium as an example

As I am writing this on Medium it is an excellent example of how things could be done a lot better to discover new articles and learn something new.

Site navigation & links

The site navigation on Medium is very basic. Only home, popular and some popular topics. I would add new menu items like “history”, “published”, “categories” and “featured”.

Also, I don’t know why the search box is closed. A core function that should always be available. In general. I would present the articles more as news websites do, like for example BBC news.

Medium has the option to create links, but there are hardly inner links between articles. It would be nice for editors to find and add related articles. While reading, there could be related articles next to it like YouTube does.

Categories

On the main website there could be general categories like Science, Technology, Sports and Economy with subcategories for example a specific kind of sports. Also articles from a specific country. At the end we tag them, but it’s hard to browse those tags.

More advanced would be to navigate and discover through tags like

or

So the bigger categories are presented the bigger and combinations form the relations between tags.

Stats & Trends

The stats for editors is very simple, but for users not existent at all. When you arrive at Wikipedia it says:

“The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. 6,132,743 articles in English

But how many articles are there on Medium? What are the stats per year, month, day? Who knows? Which writers and articles are popular (claps) and which writer has to most articles? Which topics are trending and are the becoming more or less popular (just like charts)? Other stats, where are people coming from (referrals sites), what are the lengths etc.

Sorting & Filters

Sorting and filter by country, topic, tag, length/reading time, claps.

Personalization

Show articles recommendations by reads, subscriptions or interests.

A more general point would be that Twitter, Reddit, Quora, Discourse, Medium and others would provide one account. When joining forces they would be more valuable for advertisers, but for poster of textual content it would be nice to overview of all your posted content.

Conclusion

Will the social websites change their content discovery? Probably not. This is because delivering the best quality content for your life, isn’t their target. It’s not about selling information to you, but selling your information. For now if we want to find something interesting you are on your own.

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