The Fall of Curation and Rise of the Personal Assistant


Curation is all the rage these days. In an era of information overload, we look to curators to help us discover and consume music (Spotify), home furnishings (Houzz), local events (Sosh), journalism ( and just about anything else on the web (Pinterest). We’re in love with curation. Why? We love curation because it lowers the effort we need to expend to discovering new things. In the past, we used search as our primary vehicle for discovering new information. Search requires the user to first formulate an inquiry about information the user wants to retrieve. Search tools then deliver very targeted and personally relevant results. However, search requires us to know what we don’t know. Curation is different. We simply specify our preferences and new information comes to us. We don’t need to have prior knowledge and we don’t need to apply any activation energy to discover new things. There is a big problem with curation. Curated content is not personalized. Curators and tastemakers build Spotify playlists, Pinterest boards, and Houzz collections based on their interests, not yours.

I believe we are on the cusp of the third major wave of information discovery – personal assistance. Personal assistance (PA) uses contextual data and predictive analytics to deliver personally relevant information to you at just the right time. Like curation, it does not require the user to expend energy to discover new things. And like search, it delivers very specific results. The beauty of personal assistance is that it can tailor information to you because it’s aware of your context (e.g. what is on your calendar, which websites you visited recently, your call and message history, your online purchases and more). Here is a simple example of PA in action:

Let’s say I land in LA for a meeting. My phone knows I have a meeting in an hour so it summons an Uber, gives the driver directions, and then pulls up my meeting preparation documents from Salesforce. After the meeting, my phone knows I have an hour gap in my schedule and am likely hungry so it recommends a hole-in-the-wall fish taco spot and a couple friends who live nearby.

Personal assistance initiatives such as Google Now and Amazon Anticipatory Shipping are just early examples of what the future holds.

Mass curation will eventually be replaced by mass personalization. As marketers, we need to transition from segmenting our messaging to having 1:1 conversations at scale.