10/22/2012 08:54 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

iOS, Android and a New Genre of Good-Enough Information

Once, it seemed the Internet would give us a break from formulaic content produced for the masses. But large media platforms tend toward sameness. TV networks have their sitcoms. Radio stations have adult contemporary. Once a genre takes on a familiar form, content creators begin to make assumptions about what their audiences want, audiences accept what they are given, and the frequently insipid results are well known.

The earlier days of the Internet helped change this. Remember the long tail of genre-defying information Google pledged to organize for us?

Enter smartphones, where most searches are no longer entered into a blank box. Now, they include geographic intent. For example, searches for restaurants or parks, which conveniently come packaged, courtesy of your phone, with your real-time location. Smartphone users produce hundreds of millions of these place-based queries every day.

As we know from Google's wildly successful Internet search advertising business, any kind of intent can be harvested into money. Google and Apple, runaway leaders in the smartphone information business, have every intention of harvesting place-based intent, for themselves.

How? By leveraging their leadership position to funnel users through their proprietary apps, not the open Internet. They do this through the maps apps that come packaged with phones, and in Google's case, through browser-based search results. The first or only set of information you see are Google's and Apple's (through a partnership with Yelp) own data. And the content is anything but diverse.

What we get is the easiest thing for them to serve us at scale: a new genre of good-enough, place-based information that consists of an aggregate number rating, followed by a laundry list of user reviews, all self-contained within their own world. What might seem like a meritocracy of free-flowing information is really just a way for Google and Apple to appropriate truckloads of free information to create proprietary databases of good-enough data.

Where does this leave unique, local voices? While there are hundreds of thousands of alternate apps available, the reality for any developers have a herculean task getting distribution at a scale that would make their businesses sustainable. This is particularly true for localized products; neither Apple nor Google take into account a user's location in their stores.

There are a handful of other big players in place-based information market, such as TripAdvisor and Foursquare, but guess what genre of content they favor? The scalable kind: aggregate number rating, followed by a laundry list of user reviews.

As the good-enough, ratings-based genre becomes even more entrenched, don't expect any significant changes to the form, but do think carefully about the underlying data: smart proprietors have strong incentive nudge that rating in their favor.