I grimace every time I see a post with a headline like “Best 600 Resources For Learning How To Code” or “Best 200 Landing Pages”.
It’s easy to see why these posts go viral. The headlines draw us in like moths to light.
There’s so much promise, so much excitement.
We immediately feel the warmth of inspiration.
Motivation courses through our veins as we imagine ourselves hacking away or designing a landing page with astronomically high conversion rates.
But these posts are just eye candy.
They provide little value because they have TOO MUCH information.
We bookmark the post and swear we’ll check it out later, but we never do.
We love the IDEA of having tons of options and being able to choose.
But in reality, we get overwhelmed.
When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable. As the number of available choices increases, as it has in our consumer culture, the autonomy and liberation this variety brings are powerful and positive. But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates. It might even be said to tyrannize.
— Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice
You go to the toothpaste aisle in the grocery store and there are 50 different varieties of toothpaste.
When was the last time you evaluated the merits of each variety of toothpaste?
You just grab the one you always buy and walk out.
We don’t want unlimited choices. We want convenience and relevance.
There’s a lot of money to be made by solving this curation problem, especially now as the amount of content on the Internet continues to grow at breakneck speed.
How are companies approaching the curation problem today?
Netflix has thousands of movies. More movies than anyone could ever watch in a lifetime.
Yet every Friday night I find myself looking up “best movies to watch on Netflix now” or texting a friend for a recommendation.
I don’t want to spend 30 minutes scrolling through thousands of movies on Netflix. I’m not interested in 99% of the movies available.
Netflix’s answer to the curation problem is their recommendation system.
They try to show you movies and shows they think you’ll like based on what you’ve previously watched (while promoting their new shows).
I rarely rely on Netflix’s recommendations when picking something to watch, though it seems that’s not the case for everyone.
Google solves the curation problem by providing an answer, rather than a resource to an answer, whenever possible.
Look up “When was Einstein born?” and the info box at the top of the page gives you the answer.
Look up “Brad Pitt” and the info box on the right gives you a preview from Wikipedia and some additional info (movies he’s been in and related actors) that might answer your question at a glance.
If you want to know more, then you can look into any of the thousand links below, but most of the time they provided the answer I was looking for right away and I’m done.
Google does a great job in these simple cases, but look up something more complex like “Best resource for learning machine learning” and you’re right back to the problem you faced with “The best 600 resources for learning machine learning” type listicles.
When shopping online I have two options:
- I could look up different stores, compare prices, make sure the store looks reputable (anyone can set up an online store these days), make a new account on a site I’ll probably never use again, enter my credit card information (just what I need, another place where my credit card can get stolen), and then hope what I ordered arrives on time.
- I can go on Amazon.
Yes, this is an exaggeration, but it’s not far from the truth.
This is the reason 49% of product searches begin on Amazon.
On Amazon, I can find basically anything I’m looking for, filter out products with bad reviews, sort by price, read a few reviews, compare two or three alternatives, and quickly check out.
I trust Amazon and know that if anything is wrong with the product I can easily make a return.
Amazon attacks the curation problem through filtering, sorting, and good customer service (the cost of ‘mistakes’ is low — if what I bought does not work, I can return it.)
- Keep it simple: I see online courses with 4 different packages at 4 different prices. One package offers more video interviews and another offers a one on one session with the author. This package includes an extra case study, but that one comes with $30 in credits for some service I might need. By the time I finished comparing I’m overwhelmed. Keep it simple. Don’t make buying your product a struggle. Give me 1 or 2 options with clearly stated prices and benefits.
- There’s money in the niches: Niche sites that solve specific problems for specific groups of people can do really well. Etsy, for example, does well by focusing on the handmade/vintage market.
- Word of mouth is still king: A friend sees a good movie and recommends it. My sister hears a good song and sends me it. Word of mouth is the ultimate form of curation. The crazy thing is word of mouth today is not limited to people we personally know. We follow blogs and trust the opinion of people we only know from their online presence. The Internet has allowed people to vastly extend their circle of influence.
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