You’ve probably heard the story of the blind men and the elephant. If you haven’t, it goes something like this: A group of blind men were asked to determine what an elephant was. So they each put their hands on the elephant and described it. The man with his hand on its flank said it was a wall. The man with his hand on the trunk said it was a snake. The man with his hand on its leg said it was a tree. The story ends in an admonition that “Though each was partly in the right…all were in the wrong!”
The moral of the story is that different perspectives, while they may appear to be contradictory, often contain an element of truth in them. That moral is true in most aspects of our lives, but it’s particularly true in the world of search and discovery.
If you look at the history of data discovery and retrieval in the internet age, we see a similar problem to the one the blind men faced. In the 90s we all kept massive lists of bookmarks. The Web Portals and primitive search engines available were sprawling curated lists of useful websites. Unfortunately, while curation solved part of the problem, the sheer volume of data and the onerous discovery process made curation ineffective.
In the 2000s the search engine came of age and we were flooded by information. We stopped keeping bookmarks and relied on searching for everything. This methodology was actually ok if the answer was in the first few results…but if you had to go to the 5th result, the 10th result, or the 20th result, you wasted more and more time digging through results for the right answer. While that’s annoying, it’s not the most vexing aspect of search-engine-based information discovery. The cost of reproduction is. Let’s say you had to dig through nine results before you found the one that worked for you. Next month when you have that same problem you’re going to have dig through all nine again. Three months from now? All nine again. A year from now? All nine again. The amount of time wasted just keeps compounding. So whether it’s the first time you’re solving a problem or the 50th — you spend the same amount of time finding the solution.
In the 2010s we started adding hashtags to everything. While metadata was always important on the web, the inclusion of hashtags was a revolutionary step in the amount of user-submitted metadata. It gave us a much more accurate picture of the world. It let us tag things with personally, temporally, or locality-relevant hashtags. Now user-driven information could be annotated to content to help enhance discovery.
Hand-curated, automatically shared.
Here at ANSWR we’ve always argued that hand-curated content is the best content — but only when it is supported by searching. Without combining searching and curating hand in hand you risk drowning in available information. We feel so strongly about this that last week at ANSWR we rolled out some changes to integrate all of these methods of information discovery. We now let our users instantly import their bookmarks and add an unlimited custom hashtags to a curation. So all of those bookmarks you’ve been curating for years? They’re now instantly available to your team — precisely when they need them: when they’re searching for them. You can also now use hashtags to add metadata to pages and instantly create filterable lists.
We added these features because we believe that everyone finds information differently and that in order to truly be the next generation curation and discovery platform we have to make the best use of ALL available methods of information discovery. After all, the last thing we’d want would be to be anything like the elephant that didn’t matter. You know, irrelephant.