Whatever happened to discovery?

Whatever happened to discovery?

It’s a cool, sunny late Autumn Sunday morning. You live in the countryside; the nearest village is a mile away. It’s been a while since you bought a Sunday paper. But for some reason, you want one.

Instead of getting in your car, as you normally might to do to drive the mile to the village to buy milk or go to the pub, you decide to walk. There are paths through the fields behind your house that take you to the top of a hill and then down to the village – which is actually less than a mile to walk.

You pull on some wellies and a jacket to keep warm and you set out. Along the journey you encounter several people out walking – some walking their dogs. One of them is a neighbour you haven’t seen or said hello to in over a year. You stop and talk, and find out that there is a developer planning to build several houses on a strip of land just down the road from you. Thirty houses.

There goes the neighbourhood you originally chose for feeling rural.

You continue walking until you get to the top of the hill and you look down both ways, past your house and into the rolling fields beyond. And then the way you are walking, down towards the beautiful picturesque village that you and your partner first fell in love with when the two of you were looking for a house in which to live.

You remember that it was a house that you wouldn’t have looked at because it wasn’t part of your specific search parameters when you were looking. But a friend had spent time out this way and they’d recommended you might want to have a look anyways.

You continue your walk down into the village, and you purchase your Sunday paper. The walk home is less eventful, but the clear morning air, conversation, and the views have reinvigorated you.

Over 17 years of working in digital, I’ve watched the language of design for the web change from flash interactive, “content is king”, design and functionality-rich experiences, to “efficient user journeys” and targeted search.

I listen to clients talk – as though it’s a badge of honour – about how less than 8% of their “users” come in through the home page, as they are deep-linking to their content from search engines like Google.

In many cases, content has become easier to find, with large e-commerce and content laden sites getting search, filtering and SEO down to a science. Given the mathematics and organisation methodologies involved – it is in fact a science.

It’s great that we can find things so quickly. After all, isn’t it true that we have so little time to do things as it is? Like taking that leisurely walk for the Sunday paper.

But what have we lost in the last 17 years while striving to make everything so easy to find – and so quickly?

While search accuracy has increased, discovery has taken a tumble. It’s often the case that as adults, we don’t set out to discover things. This was something we did as children – what’s behind that hill, how does this work, why is that the case? We don’t have time. We’re too busy. Remember?

As adults we set out to find things. We use search to do this. We jump to a result, and do a rapid assessment. If it meets our needs, we are finished. If not, research shows that we often “pogo” back out to the original search and either select another result, or search again.

Along that journey, where is the opportunity for exposure to new things? Where is the chance to find out about things happening that affect us? Perhaps we could have an app for that.

When do we slow down, just enough, to remind us of why we love or want to know more about the thing we are searching for to begin with… or to discover the unexpected along the way?

There is certainly a place for both search and discoverability in our lives. It’s about remembering to find a degree of balance. And sometimes reminding clients that up-sell and discoverability are not necessarily the same thing.

As always, all comments welcome.