Is there such a thing as too much choice?
George Rausch, Director of Content for Pluto TV, talked about our modern media overload on Monday at SXSW. Because of the lack of curation, Rausch posited, consumers are spending too much time searching, less time actually consuming, and this can eventually lead to user dissatisfaction. “By reducing the amount of choices,” Rausch said, “users experience higher engagement and build loyalty [towards a] platform.”
Content providers need to do a better job of curating. Many would define curation as “pulling together, sifting through, and selecting for presentation, as music or website content.” But Rausch says this is too simplistic. Merely organizing things or presenting them to users leaves out the core value of curation, which is discovering and organizing content to give it new context and meaning.
Rausch cited an early example of curation —the Museum Wormianum, one of the first examples of what would become widely known as the modern museum. The Museum Wormianum was in the home of 17th century Danish physician, linguist and philosopher Ole Worm. It consisted of a little bit of everything, but was focused on how things being presented outside of their natural environment could impact their meaning.
When we hear the word curation today, we think of Spotify and Pandora for music, blogs for written content, Instagram and Facebook for our social lives, and Netflix and Hulu for video. Even by specific medium, there are not only multiple options, but an amazing amount of choice within those options.
It may seem like choice is a wonderful thing, but there’s no question that it can also be overwhelming. Rausch cited the 2004 book, and future TED Talk, The Paradox of Choice – Why More is Less by psychologist Barry Schwartz. In it, Schwartz argues that more choice equals more anxiety, and more unhappiness.
In the United States, most cable customers have over 200 channel options. But why do most people watch the same 17 top cable channels? Rausch says this is because of Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, which says that when people are overwhelmed by choices, they end up paralyzed—not doing anything. And Rausch thinks that many of our current digital content providers aren’t doing much actual curating. Rather, they’re dumping whatever they can on their platforms and touting their staggering amount of choice.
Rausch also said that Humans are the curation algorithm, for two reasons. Firstly, they have personal networks of friends and colleagues to learn from. And in addition, they can discern topic experts and go to them to find most precise information, which is something that machines can’t do (yet, of course).
What makes a great curator? Curators are more than experts. Being an expert in a subject matter is great, but not a requirement. Experts find definitive answers, while curators look for perspective.
It’s that perspective that Rausch claims is missing in modern media. If both he and Schwartz are correct, perhaps consumers will eventually find themselves frustrated with the immense options that Netflix offers. Time will tell, but until then, we’ve some binge-watching to take care of.