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DIGO Brands Surfing

By Jeff Pundyk

Back before search, there was browse.

When I first started goofing around with the Internet in the early ‘90s, there was no directed search, no search engine optimization, no organic search, no paid search. We browsed. We looked for directories of links and followed them wherever they took us. We wandered. Often aimlessly. It was the thing that hooked me on the Internet – the idea that I could skip across the globe from computer to computer, driven by my curiosity and by serendipity, until I discovered something. Serendipity was the key. Serendipity meant unexpected outcomes.

Lycos and Yahoo turned up in 1994, providing centralized directories. The term of art was “drill down.” We’d start at the broadest level and with each click “drill down” deeper and deeper into more specialized categories. But we weren’t really drilling down. We were drilling sideways and backwards, up and down, driven by those unexpected outcomes and delighted by them. Think of it as guided curiosity.

Now we search. It’s directed. Not only do we search, but we each get personalized answers to our queries based on our previous searching habits. We get “search results” that are cooked just for us based on our search history. Personalization is everywhere – Netflix, Amazon, Google, ad servers. Our social networks are personalized too, filled with people who think just like we do, and offer an echo chamber of links that ricochet around our networks. And each of our “likes,” “RTs” and “checkins” simply serve to reinforce our borders. Eli Pariser calls it “The Filter Bubble”, the idea that personalization by algorithm and cloistered social networks are fencing us in.

The promise of the Internet is still its ability to connect, whether it be people to people or people to ideas. “The Filter Bubble” warns that we risk only connecting to the people and ideas that we already like. We say it’s not too late. The personalization algorithms are just responding to our own actions. So let’s get out of our bubbles. Visit bloggers with whom you do not agree; expand your network to include some dissonant views. “Like” something unexpected; follow someone unfamiliar. Do not simply accept search results; browse the Internet.

After all, the ingredients for growth are not usually found within our familiar borders. There is little to be learned from reinforcing what we already believe. Rather, growth comes from testing our beliefs against new ideas. Often, growth is found where we least expect it. Seek out serendipity.