In an age of instant recommendations, a case for taste

If I’m looking for music recommendations, I can check out Apple (s AAPL) and Pandora (s P). For books, there’s Amazon (s AMZN) or Goodreads.  For clothing, home goods, restaurants and other products, I can turn to services like Best Decision, Wantering, Wikets, Ness and others (or Amazon again), depending on what I’m looking for.

Across increasing verticals, it’s never been easier to use apps and services to instantly find things that might match my interests.

But I’ve been thinking about those on-demand recommendations in the context of a conversation I had this week with TastemakerX founder and CEO Marc Ruxin about the different between interests and taste. (His startup, which launched in June, gives music fans a stock market-like game for discovering and learning about artists and he was at the GROW Conference this week in Vancouver to give a talk about the value of taste.)

Taste, he said, cuts to the core of a person’s evolving identity – his past, present and future. Interests can be more casual and transactional – stuff you might have, not the person that you are.  But taste implies a commitment of time and thought and, beyond defining who you are, it can inspire others.

“You have the taste that you’ve done the due diligence to have,” he said.

In advocating for taste, he argued that in connecting people and spreading awareness about movies, food, films and cultural trends, social networking has made it so that “everything, everywhere looks the same.”

Even though the Web has given us the tools to find like-minded people, its filters aren’t good enough for us to always find and communicate with them at scale, he said.  The Internet has the potential to connect people with the most esoteric taste – such as those who love funny pictures of cats (a la this) – but not all tribes that organize around culture can find and deeply connect with their cohorts online.

As a result, his bet is that people will increasingly opt for vertical-specific communities that, in a sense, celebrate, organize around and help people develop taste.

“It isn’t about good taste or bad taste,” he said. “But that you make your taste your own.”

I’m not sure I totally agree with his assessment about the extent of social networking’s homogenizing effect, but I do think there is something to be said for dipping below the surface of what happens to be most accessible to really seek out and figure out the content and communities that most authentically connect with who we are.

Especially with the overwhelming amount of information available, it’s much easier to listen to the music Apple says I might like and read the books Amazon suggests, instead of investing the time and energy to develop my own taste — and I often follow Apple and Amazon’s recommendations, happily. But I also feel, a little bit, like I’m cheating. Putting in the work to make good choices from a larger pool of options isn’t just a learning and discovery process about the greater category of content, it’s a learning and discovery process about ourselves.

The web has brought many more options to our fingertips, making the process of selecting the communities and content we want to spend our time with all the more difficult. And, in some contexts, time-saving data-driven and human-curated discovery tools are incredibly valuable. But in others, I’m starting to think, I’d rather lose time than taste.

Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor in TastemakerX and the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

(Image via Kram78 via Shutterstock.)