Who is good at discovery?

Apple has carefully guarded the podcast directory, persuading podcasters that ‘winning’ here is the shortcut to building a popular podcast. But they’re terrible at introducing podcasts to new listeners, terrible at developing a point of view that enables the industry to thrive or even grow.

Compare this to Netflix. They’re terrific at surfacing content and helping people find things that they end up liking. Netflix, for economic and marketing reasons, has limited the number of ‘shows’ they have to promote, but within their set, they continue to delight. Compare this to YouTube–if you follow the ‘recommended’ path for just a handful or two of clicks, you’ll end up with something banal or violent.

Google built its entire business on the mythology of discovery, persuading millions of entrepreneurs and creators that somehow, SEO would help them get found, at the very same time they’ve dramatically decreased organic search results to maximize revenue.

Bookstores were pretty good at helping people discover new books, and in some situations, Amazon’s even better. Often, though, particularly on the Kindle and with Audible, Amazon does little indeed to help people find serendipity as they think about what to engage with next. (And putting recommendations up for sale to the publishers is shortsighted and greedy, imho).

In music, Roon’s ‘radio’ feature does a startlingly good job of introducing me to songs I thought I already loved, even though I’m hearing them for the first time.

Given how much our culture depends on finding out what’s new, it’s surprising that few have figured out how to be smart about it. If you’re a creator, the truth remains what the truth has been ever since Yahoo tried to sort the web by hand: the best way to make a hit is to build something for the smallest viable audience and make it so good that people tell their peers.