The unknown known

A consequence of society's accelerating evolution is that people feel out of place.  Example: Out of place in the world, because they need and want to travel more, yet everyone likes to feel "at home" wherever they end up.

Why is so difficult when we never had access to so much data and tools?

Precisely because of the abundance in data, I'd say. The traditional top down approach to extracting value out of data is by organization and filtering. But that's too slow and expensive, and too narrow scoped. So, hierarchies got replaced by networks [1]. For example, Foursquare is not a city guide, instead it relies on the input from thousands of businesses and users who register places and checkin. They make this to avoid creating an city guide which is good for me but bad for you. It also allows them to simultaneously launch in many cities and Countries. This makes the network more resilient, complete, and fun. However, not all is rosy in a Place network. These networks share connections around a common discipline, and try hard to be personalized but they are too commercial. And commercial, like cheap music selections of hits on the radio, don't feel personal, even if you like them.

Too much content is simply too hard to navigate. Sure, Foursquare tells you places your friends check-in, and suggests nearby places, but somehow that doesn't seem enough. Why would a place someone I know visited be good? I can train an algorithm to try to infer what I like from other users and categories, but so far the results are too bad.

Let's see a practical situation. Everywhere I go, I always try to find where:

  • to get a native Japanese meal as good as in Sakura in London (now closed)
  • to run in a scene as natural and grandiose as the marginal of Porto
  • to eat a smooth stroganoff like in Gorky Park in Berlin
  • to listen to nicely jockeyed old tunes as in ZuZu of Boston
  • to party in a discotheque as cool and customer friendly as Lux in Lisbon
  • to find the nearest rooftop that rivals The Standard in LA

I do search Foursquare and TripAdvisor and the like, but they are pretty much useless for this. Consequently, when I go to a city I mostly ask a local to guide me, and generally I am happy with the results. But its suboptimal.

I've been thinking about Explicit category networks. Say, I like speakeasies in NY. Particularly, I like Apotheke in Chinatown. Now, I'm pretty sure there's someone out there who can tell me what's the closest to Chinatown in London and Berlin. Or a bar which provides he same breed of live music, great cocktails in a private environment in Paris. This way, I would be able to experience the local feel of a neighborhood, park, bar, restaurant or library but In a way that would kind of be familiar to myself.

These services would still be networks, because they (could) rely on an a multitude of opinions, yet somehow hierarchical in the way that it would be restricted to a certain domain and force, not simple signals.

"When in ____ I felt like I was in ____" would be the currency of this service.

I'd likely and gladly become a customer of a service which solved this problem.


  1. Wikipedia is not edited by a fixed body of appointed experts. Small projects are Kickstarter'ed not by big companies but rather a list of people with the same interest. Bitcoins are "regulated" by a headless body of developers and miners.