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How Digg and Reddit brought browsing back.

Are you old enough to remember when the Internet when it seemed to have a finite amount of information? Do remember the Darwin Awards? Can you remember the last time you actually saw an original joke online or in your inbox?

If so, then maybe you sometimes have a hankering for old days when rather than searching for things on the Net, you would just browse around just click on random things and occasionally come across sites like "The End of the Internet". These were the days when you had directories, not search engines, and you just had to take what you could get.

In any case, recently a couple of new(ish) sites like StumbleUpon, Digg and Reddit have brought the browsing back to the browser. These are sites on which other people post stories of interest and rather than searching for interesting content, the user simply browses through. Stories are ranked by other users and secret sauce algorithms are in place to try and keep out spammers and general exhibitionists so that the stories you see are guaranteed interesting.

When you click through these sites you end up in a fugue or a daze where the best of the Net is brought to you with minimal thought. One of the nicest features though is that while you can go down into subcategories, if you just go through the default flow you end up seeing truly new things that you never would have thought of. Sometimes getting exactly what you want can be the problem rather than the solution as it takes too much work to think about what it is you really want.

Hence the beauty of browsing. Browsing is actually a natural activity practiced by early homonids (during our Hunter/Gatherer phases) where rather than selecting exactly what we want to buy at the supermarket, we would forage and eat whatever came our way. Sometimes it was good, sometimes not so good, but it was always interesting. This is the reason brick and mortar shops still exist even though you can order everything you want online just by searching for it.

Browsing is also important in helping bring new options to the table that you wouldn't have otherwise thought of.

While blog sites such as BoingBoing also fulfill this function, they don't actually update fast enough. It's easier to click than to post and who has time to list every interesting link themselves. This is where the multi poster model works so well.

So if you need to waste time online like the old days (before you could be productive on the Net) then browse away.



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