Will Someone Bring ‘Quaint’ Back?

Jeff Jarvis is a smart guy, who has a lot of interesting things to say.

He is a big proponent of Google, obviously, and saw the future for the newspaper industry very early. So I generally keep an eye on what he writes.

He has a column up regarding the Yahoo-Microsoft search lovefest.

The column is a fairly straightforward discussion of the futileness of Yahoo and Microsoft trying to catch Google on search, since Google has mostly won search anyway. Which is reasonable.

In the column, however, he talks about something which I thought most people had forgotten about:

After all, 15 years ago, it was Yahoo that first organised the web for us. Its original ambition seems quaintly naive today: human editors cataloguing every site worth visiting and deciding which were the hot ones we should visit.

Yup, in the old days Yahoo had human editors rating websites, ranking websites, marking particular websites as Cool! or Hot! (my dim recollection). This seems, as Mr. Jarvis puts it, quaint.

Later in the article, he offers this observation:

Search still matters but is beginning to matter a little less. The venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently pointed out that 14% of traffic to his blog, avc.com, comes from Google – down from 29% the year before. Wilson argues the difference is Twitter – that is, links over algorithms.

There seems to be a slight thread of synergy in those two comments. In his previous blog post titled The John Henry fight of man v. algorithm, Mr. Jarvis writes more at length about how the power of many people (Twitter) can trump an algorithm (Google News) in some cases.

Might the next jump in search not be strictly algorithmic? (How much revolutionary improvement is left for Pagerank?)

As Mr. Jarvis says, this seems to be where Google is going — finding a way to take the global crowd-sourcing of twitter messages, blog comments, wiki edit revisions, forum postings, etc. and combine it into a new search algorithm, one where all of us in the global conversation are effectively selecting the best answers to search questions in real time? Where crowds vote by there activities vote on best answers, marking some Cool! and some not.

But I suspect Yahoo is going there as well, since Yahoo owns a bunch of similar, popular properties. Surely Yahoo is capable technically, if they seem to be lacking in management agility.

Indeed, we can assume Facebook, MySpace, et al are all thinking along these lines.

Could someone bring ‘Quaint’ back? Wouldn’t it be ironic if Yahoo did it first?

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