Building Delightful Content Environments

Here’s a hard truth: the amount of things I would love grows faster than my ability to process them. There are too many good movies, articles, or conversations I could engage in. I’ve been battling with that fact for a long time. I’ve tried to fight it by forcing myself to process these things faster: go through photos more quickly, watch videos at 2x speed, read articles diagonally. This sucks. It rids me of my ability to transform information into knowledge — let alone wisdom.

I also tried to delegate. To find people or organizations I trust and to give them the task of curating what I will get to see. That’s what my favorite newspaper does for me.

But a newspaper is not able to replicate the feeling of joy I get when I step into a small comic book shop, start browsing through the aisles, and discover a promising graphic novel I had never heard of.

That shop is not unlike my newspaper. It contains a collection of comic books curated by the owner. But the similarities end there. A comic shop gives me a totally different emotional experience than my newspaper. What makes these two forms of curation so different?

It’s not only because comic books are less mainstream. I subscribe to comic newsletters and they dont give me the same feeling. No, I believe the important difference is that I’m much more directly involved in the process of discovery in the comic book store than when I read my local newspaper.

Let’s look at that discovery process. There are too many books in the shop for me to go through everything. I have to randomly walk the aisles and let my eyes wander. When they land on something intriguing I check the title, the author, the fourth cover and maybe even browse the pages a little. After doing this for a while, I revisit the interesting books, choose one, and commit to buying it.

That’s a process I’m deeply invested in.

I’d love for the Internet to feel like that… Unfortunately, it rarely does.

The biggest difference for me is in the quality of what I would call the “content environment”. On the Internet it feels I have the choice between a highly curated environment — a newsletter, a newspaper — or a large environment that I just don’t enjoy being in — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube…

That comic book shop offers me a content environment I enjoy. I know there’s enough good stuff in there and that I have a good chance of finding something I love in a reasonable amount of time.

Maybe more importantly, the real world has millions of similar content environments,

Since the beginning of e-commerce, the Internet has been in the business of “cutting the middle-man”. This helped remove a lot of parasites on the supply chain, but it also killed the passionate shop owners who created the myriad of delightfully curated content environments that made browsing in the real world feel so good.

I miss this, but I believe we can have it back. I believe we can find ways for the Internet to offer rich and enjoyable content environments. Environments we would love to browse and that would be good fits for our own idiosyncrasies. Environments we can purposefully explore to discover some of the stuff we love while feeling good about letting go of the infinitely many more things we may have loved.