The Curated Web

There is a great deal of discussion about “The Open Web”, the one that takes place, generally, in a browser and where access to all information is approximately equal, vs the closed web, which takes place generally in apps. Adding to this discussion is how people consume their news increasingly on Facebook, giving them the ability to curate their information to their interest and “likes”.

I’ve noted a number of debates on this subject to assess the potential societal impact of many people’s experience with the internet being more curated or controlled by outside sources. One point I hear often is how most people don’t know any better. In fact, they like their content curated beause it’s easier to digest. Newspapers, historically, were somewhat of a signpost here as they had a slant that appealed to certain people. News channels are similar, with Fox News being a prime example, of news with an angle or a bias. It is designed to cater to specific types of people. For many consumers, it is simply easier to digest information aligned to your interests, beliefs, philosophies, etc. Note, I’m not insinuating this is all people but, generally speaking, there are large numbers who like their content a specific way.

We can argue the role Facebook plays in this but a research project revealed an interesting statistic when it comes to young people and their news consumption on Facebook. This was how I framed the data point:

Facebook has become a nearly ubiquitous part of Digital Millennial Life. On 24 separate news and information topics probed, Facebook was the No. 1 gateway to learn about 13 of those and the second-most cited gateway for seven others.

Facebook is not the only social network Millennials use for news. On average, those surveyed get news from more than three social media platforms — including YouTube (83%), Twitter (65%), and Instagram (50%)

Increasingly, Facebook is becoming a primary source for millennials to hear about the news. They then talk and engage within their community. Any general look at your Facebook feed would reveal this is likely true with many demographics, not just millennials.

The Web Got Too Big

As I step back and think about where this might go, it’s worth observing that, perhaps, people are not just trying to curate or close themselves off to the bigger web intentionally. Perhaps the web just got too big. During the course of discovery, there became simply too much choice.

A highly recommended read is a book called the Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. In this book, the author outlines how too much choice can often leave people incapacitated to make a decision. The volume of choice is simply so overwhelming the act of decision making itself begins to feel like a burden. Sometimes, limited options are actually easier for people to comprehend and make a decision.

Often I feel this burden when searching the web. While the breadth and depth of choice offers the widest array of options, the act of narrowing the decision can feel exhausting or lead to deeper rabbit holes that feel like a waste of time. If you search a news story or recipe or any subject, Google presents you with so many options that deciding where to invest your time, on which story, on which site, etc., can feel burdensome. Much trial and error precedes the search.

So perhaps what people are saying with a more curated web experience is, either through social media or specific purpose apps, there is simply too much choice on the web and that discovery, along with the thrill of it, has become more of a chore than a delight.

This conversation, while interesting, is no more than a series of “what ifs”. But it is at times like these where thinking through some logical possible conclusions is helpful while looking forward into the future.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

37 thoughts on “The Curated Web”

  1. I tend to think that there is a “law of conservation of curation”. To digest any knowledge, there has to be a certain amount of digging through the noise and surfacing the information that is worth knowing and will contribute to your understanding. Either a newspaper, TV channel or Facebook will do this for you, or you will have to do it yourself by going through the tedious chore of investigating the search results that Google gives you. My view is that Google requires you, the user, to curate the content before you can digest it. The same with Twitter. You have to carefully manage your follow list and also plough through hundreds of tweets to find interesting news. This too is a case where the burden of curation is simply transferred to the end user.

    I think the main objection to curation is that it introduces a bias in the information that one would get, and that it would prevent us from knowing about things that our outside of our interest or beliefs. I personally don’t think this is true at all. If curation works and it becomes easier to digest the gist of some piece of news, then you have more time to investigate alternative viewpoints. Alternative viewpoints will also be presented in an easy-to-digest manner, so you can easily glance them and understand their point of view. This is really hard to do with the “open” web unless you spend a lot of time. The only thing that would really prevent us from knowing other angles, is if that was blocked and very difficult to access. That is not what curation does.

    It’s like how Apple Music introduces you to music that you’ve never had the time to investigate. Good curation widens your view.

    I’m looking forward to the golden age of curation, and definitely cheering Apple’s manual curation efforts because I believe humans are still extremely important.

    1. “Good curation widens your view.”

      This is precisely how museum and other art curators see their job. They may take a particular angle, but it is about exploring that angle in ways maybe not otherwise perceived.


    2. there is nothing more curated on the Web than search, in fact the real advantage of Google search over the competition is exactly better curation.

      1. Very, very true. It’s just that the level of curation that Google provides is still not enough to provide hassle-free results. You still have to check each entry and see if they provide the information that you are looking for. That is to say, the end-user has to add their own curation efforts before they can digest the information.

        Your point makes it clear that there never was an “Open Web” that was even remotely useful, and that we have always had a “Curated Web”. The only difference is how the curation happens and what the consequences are.

        1. there is no such thing as Hassle-Free result, even you own mother who probably know you better than anyone else can give you a single definitive answer to a general question, hence the Top 10 result.

          1. I disagree. There are hassle-free results, but it’s just not possible with the concept of web-site search.

            For example, if I wanted to search when I should get on the train to the airport, then I would get a definitive, hassle-free answer. If I wanted to find driving directions, the answer might not be as absolutely definitive, but it would be close.

            If I wanted to find the cheapest price for a Windows laptop, then I could go to a popular price comparison site in Japan called They would give me a definitive answer, and since most low-price retailers including Amazon put up their prices there, I would place confidence in their results and look no further.

            If I wanted to learn about Britney Spears, I could listen to an “Introduction to Britney Spears” playlist on Apple Music. I would be totally confident that this playlist would include all her most famous music.

            These are examples of hassle-free results. Getting the same information from a web search (without Google Maps) is much harder, and to be sure that you have exhausted all major points to consider, you would have to look many pages deep into the results.

            Interestingly, all of these require either human curation on the part of the service provider, or on the part of the data provider (whose data will be syndicated into the service). Maps for example requires a lot of human effort for it’s accuracy, and hence the ability to blindly trust its results.

            A good newspaper tailored to a specific audience would give you a similar experience. For example, by reading the Wall Street Journal, you can be totally confident that you have understood the important news happening in the world of finance. You might supplant it with a similar industry-specific newspaper. On the other hand, Google web search will never give you this confidence, and would also most likely give you three or four variations on the same news, which is totally redundant for the reader. The quality of the news that Google finds is also very variable, so you have to keep this in mind as well. That’s where the hassle is.

          2. You seem to have a very strong biased against algorithm or Google in particular that makes it difficult for you to see the point.

            There is a big difference between a general search keyword and a clear question, such as the example you provided above.

            A search algorithm is somehow a form of curation similar to the one you noted about Wall Street Journal News editorial.

            Google knowledge Graph is one of the best and most curated platform on the web that can give you a specific answer to a specific questions, but not necessarily for a general search keyword the same way a human can’t

          3. My apologies if anything on my side hindered your understanding. I am trying not to be biased against Google, and I agree that the Knowledge Graph is in many ways Google’s answer to the hassle-free problem.

            The thing is, if you think from a disruption theory standpoint, you would realise that “general search” is actually over-serving the market. Disruption theory states that products improve to the point where they over-serve most customers, and that opens the door to less feature-rich but cheaper or easier to use products. In this case, “general search” has greatly improved, but is no longer the most convenient way to get the answers that most people ask for, which are often “specific answers to specific questions”.

            “General search” over-serves customers who want “specific answers to specific questions”. For people who want “specific answers to specific questions”, curated sources are many times more convenient. Confounding this situation is that mobile increases the number of customers wanting “specific answers to specific questions”, because convenience becomes a higher priority.

            The market is moving towards “specific questions”. Mobile users want quick results, and don’t want the hassle of analysing “general search” results.

            Of course Google realises this. That is why they show Knowledge Graph cards in search results. However, often times people want even simpler results.

          4. I see your point except you seems to think that General search result somehow underserve or overserve the users, when in fact a well curate General search result is a form of suggestion list that is as important as a definitive search result when it come to keyword.

            You cannot provide a definitive answer to someone who do not know what he wants, or what he is looking for, not even your own wife can, hence why there must always be a balance between, suggestions, and definitive result Or General search or Knowledge Graph

            (ie) If I ask Google, which is the best restaurant to eat tonight?

            I do not seek a specific answer because the best restaurant can be a Japanese restaurant, Chinese, Italian, or even burgers, so give me a list of the best top 10 that includes several types of food for me to choose from makes sense, unless i want you to choose for me what i want which imply that you know better about my own needs than myself.

            Curation can mean different things to different people based on what they are looking for,

          5. I asked Google these questions just now. I made sure I was logged in, and that Google was tracking my location correctly. When I entered my query in English, I got three links to Tripadviser (.com, .ca,, none of which were relevant to my location, despite the fact that Google knew that I was in Japan.

            Next, I asked the same question in Japanese. If I asked, “delicious restaurants near hear”, I got a Google cards kind of response for seemingly random restaurants near here. No reason to believe that they were actually delicious (no ranking data of any kind), and I know by living here, that these are not the delicious ones in any way. If I asked “the most delicious restaurants near here”, I didn’t got a list of websites that described restaurants that are quite far away, but were chosen only because they included the word “most” (一番).

            Please let me know if you had better luck. For me at least, these results are totally unusable.

            Much better to use a Yelp-like app, which has data from human curated sources, and which has human entered reviews together with lots of metadata. I would simply search for restaurants near here, and sort by review score.

          6. This is not the best way to determine the value of the Google search result.

            Google search is now a learning system, the more you use their full range of their services for data entry, the best results you get (date output). the system will created a profile of you from you history and many pastern of behavior just a human to improve the accuracy of it’s result.

            Also some features are not yet available everywhere.

          7. I totally understand and that’s why I asked for an example of the kind of results that you get.

            How well does that query work for you?

          8. Google Now, already gives me this kind of result in a form of suggestion every week without even having to enter a single keyword

          9. I thought that we were talking about Google search.

            Actually, as I see it, Google is totally aware of the limitations of Search, and that is probably one of the reasons why they are working on the Knowledge Graph and Google Now, despite neither having as clear a revenue model as Search.

          10. You can in fact provide a definitive answer to someone who does not know what he wants or is looking for. That’s what discovery platforms do, that’s what advertising tries to accomplish, that’s what branding tries to shape and get ahead of, and that’s what channels serve. Google is great for intentional information needs, but unintended information needs require a different, in some ways inverted, model of interaction, where the (digital) environment serves to illicit desire and interest out of a person. Of course, this is a much harder thing to do, but given the value of solving indecision and the state of not knowing, it is also a more valuable problem to solve.

          11. Probably, but this will require following question about your keyword in a form of a conversation, which is the reason why voice is the future of search, otherwise, the only way to know exactly what I’m looking for when even i do not know it, is by making the choice for me or simply ask me more related question as human do.

          12. Or, it will require thinking outside of direct queries and search boxes. You have to go where human behavior is, not force human behavior to go where you want it to.

          13. as a human being yourself, can you give a definitive answer to someone who asks for a general question?

          14. Depending on the context, sometimes Yes. For example, when a friend asks what they should do when they go to a new city or when they ask for suggestions for food, entertainment etc. I had one friend once ask me how to get good at following politics, which required providing both content and behavioral suggestions. Suggestion engines try to serve this need, but not very well. Can some of this conceivably be done in a search box? Maybe, but a lot of these kinds of general wants and questions don’t fit well in a query format. Usually when someone has a general question their biggest problem isn’t getting a definitive answer, but figuring out a better more precise question. That’s why fulfillment requires more than a question answer format. Facilitating a broader set of interactions is needed.

          15. every single example you pointed above are what google search aim to with voice search and anticipated engine, Deep mind research etc, which is the reason why i said, voice is the future of search,

          16. Every one of those examples is a problem Google is trying to solve with voice search, anticipation engines, deep learning, but that does not necessarily mean those are the right approaches or that it will be successful. At the end of the day, it’s not how clever or sophisticated your approach is, but whether the solution works. Like I said earlier, you can try to fit human behavior to a solution, but often times what works better is fitting a solution to human behavior. Querying is a very narrow set of interactions, and no matter how you try to deepen it’s power, it’s still limited by its behavioral characteristics.

          17. Like I said earlier, you can try to fit human behavior to a solution, but often times what works better is fitting a solution to human behavior.Lei Gong

            are you implying that Google search or voice search are just about fitting human behavior to a solution?

          18. If you try to channel every form of curation and discovery through a query format, then yes.

          19. that’s not what they are doing . entering a keyword is only the beginning compare to what search will be in the future.

            do you know of a company out there that can provide on demand useful and personalize information to user better than google?

  2. Curation is fine as long as you can step outside of the curated environment, if not, it’s censorship.

    AOL and CompuServe were curated environments. So were the myriads of BBSs before them. But it was an area you chose to enter AND you chose to exit. The computer wasn’t “AOL Only”. To me, this is iOS…. “All AOL, all the time!”.

  3. I am not all that concerned about a curated web. Ultimately we curate our own “web” and news. Even on Facebook we will selectively filter or curate even further who we follow, what we follow and what and who we will pay attention to in following news. And why. I mean, Facebook isn’t really curating anything, other than their algorithm for one’s newsfeed—which is why I keep my feed on “Most recent”. I suppose, even then I am trusting they are actually presenting me with everything chronologically. We filter our own choices down. Facebook is simply the cafe, diner, barber shop, and watercooler all rolled into one on steroids. It is still people to people that we find our news. How many of the people who are finding news through Facebook even looked to the web at all before Facebook?


  4. Google search result are always curated, which is the reason why users always choose the top 5 results and advertiser are willing to kill for it, add to that Google now and you end up with the best curated platform on the web.

    1. “Google search result are always curated”

      Don’t make me laugh. Try searching for “productname review” with any product that isn’t popular, and notice how many of the top hits are store sites that have zero user reviews (but prominently feature the keyword “reviews” in the page description). The ads Google serves are even more ludicrous — every time I search on a device that doesn’t filter out all google ads, I see totally inappropriate, off topic ads that appear to be boosting off a single keyword in my search without regard to context. Google used to try to keep spam out of the top search results, but even there they’ve been less and less successful lately.

      1. do you know what curation means ?

        you need to be login Google to have a very personalize and curated search result that take into account many aspect such your profile, Location, intent, History, relevance, popularity, Ads etc. my result are different than yours for the same key words base on what we are searching for

  5. To put it briefly, I think the curated web is another facet of the evolution of the internet towards centralized domains and destinations and away from a universal index. In a sense, curation is the new “branding” in that it is driven by the same heuristic processes that we lean on to help navigate an increasingly crowded decision space.

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