The Web suffers a fundamental problem. Search is a symptom of it. Surfing is a symptom of it. Even the website itself is a symptom of it. The problem is that content is organized for you, in advance. Pre-packaged content is like ordering off the menu at a restaurant. Sometimes it’s convenient, sometimes it’s just what you want, but many times, it’s a difficult choice to make. The Web wants to become made-to-order.
Search certainly helps. If I want to order off the menu, it’s great to have access to lots of restaurants and lots of menus. User-generated content is great, too, if you like to cook. But I don’t want to access content or create content, I want to consume it to get stuff done.
No one retrieves content for the sake of retrieving content; they have a deeper purpose in mind. “I need to create a report for my boss.” “I need to plan a trip for my family.” “I want to be entertained.” We’re task-oriented. All the intervening steps amount to the bill, tax, and gratuity. And since most tasks require us to visit many different sites, the overall cost is extraordinary.
A made-to-order Web would spare us these costs. If you’re ordering a specific task, much of the legwork can be delegated to machines. Computers are becoming increasingly adept at analytical tasks. They can break down content into bite-size pieces for our consumption. They are also capable of synthetic tasks, building the content back up into new forms. These types of analysis and synthesis tasks enable made-to-order.