Monday, February 1, 2016

"Lists Are The New Search"

From Benedict Evans:
I've become rather fascinated by all the people trying to unbundle Yelp for restaurants. People trying to unbundle Craigslist do so with modern UX, but Yelp is a modern company with modern UX, and the people unbundling it, mostly, use constraint. Instead of offering 500 or 1000 restaurants and a search box, they give you a list - 50, or 10, or even 1. Sometimes this is deliberate and sometimes it flows from the business model, but the result is the same - they remove the 'tyranny of choice'. I don't want 500 options for restaurants, all of which I'd like - I want five.

You can see much the same thing in fashion. Now that the flash sales model has receded somewhat, the strategy for a lot of online fashion and luxury good offerings is, again, constraint - curation, or, one could say, a list. Show me 10 bags, not every SKU currently under production in the entire global apparel industry.

Showing every SKU, of course, is exactly the Amazon approach - 'the everything store', and it works well for some categories, and especially when you know exactly what you want. But knowing what you want is not necessarily the starting point - that's what needs to happen along the funnel. Amazon's relative weakness at curation, discovery and recommendation (I've seen data suggesting the recommendation platform is only 1/4 of its books sales) is, I think, a big reason why, after 25 years of ruthless and relentless execution, it's still only got to 25% of the print books market in the UK and USA. A bookshop (or any shop) is, yes, the end-point to a logistics system, but a good bookshop is primarily a discovery platform. That is, it's more about the tables than the shelves. And the tables are lists, not inventory.

The problem with using a list instead of a searchable database is how you get to scale - or perhaps, what kind of scale you can have. So, Yahoo's hierarchical directory (a list of lists) got to 3.2m entries before collapsing under its own weight - it was too big to be browsed, and reached the point that only search made sense (and Google did better search). But if the list is shorter (that is, more aggressively curated as opposed to just compiled and catalogued), then who's doing the curation, and more importantly, how do you find the list in the first place?

Hence, I always thought the most appealing part of Flipboard was the manually curated directory of sites to follow. It's a list of lists, but it isn't trying to encompass everything, and so, unlike Yahoo, it isn't unmanageably big. But that just relocates the problem - what if you want a list that isn't on the list of lists? If you wanted to find 5 new sites to read about a topic you care about - ice-climbing, or vintage furniture, or experimental electronic music, or children's picture books - where would you find it? Can you create a platform for all those lists without turning into Yahoo? And it's worth remembering that Google hasn't actually solved this either - it might give you one blog post, but not a list of 20 sites to try. (Indeed, one could suggest that blogs themselves break Google in some sense - you're looking for a stream, but Google can only give you the post.)...MORE
Here, here! That is user experience!

See also December 5's "A VC On the Opportunity In Lists".

In non-related listing through life:
Take That, Buzzfeed: 17 Numbered Lists From History
The Hundred Best Lists of All Time