I got to see Seth Godin’s next big thing at Web 2.0: Squidoo. He introduces the notion in an e-book (I still don’t understand his love affair with the form) but I got to see it on good, old-fashioned, no-download-needed, no-application-required paper.

It’s a good idea because it’s a simple and necessary idea. I’ll try to summarize:

With most topics on the web, it has become too hard to find the right starting point. The same is true for many web sites, including blogs.

So Seth is trying to create a new grammar for the essential introduction to whatever. He calls it a lens and though you’ll be able to create these lenses on his Squidoo, he also is very clear that you can create a lens anywhere right now. I could create a new page that gives you what I think are the essential starting points for a topic I think I know. Seth is creating a format for this and also an opportunity.

He showed me an example about espresso machines (Jason will be interested) that points to what its author thinks are the best links and posts to get you going on your quest. It’s the starting point. This could also be used for blogs; how many times have you come across a new blog and wondered what this person is really about? This is why Seth had some of us submit what we think are our essential posts. This becomes a lens to Buzzmachine that I create. And I suppose you could create one, too.

This is big. Seth does big things. He recognizes that now the web has to organize better around topics. But with the web’s size — with hundreds of thousands of links about any topic in any Google search — there’s no way to get started. Yahoo tried to answer that in its birth but gave up because it very quickly became too expensive — to outlandishly ambitious — to have staffers catalogue the entire friggin’ web. The Open Directory Project tried to open that up but it was still too complicated because, as its founders have said, people are either lazy or liars. . The original vision for About.com (then The Mining Company) was another variant on this theme until it shifted to becoming a resource itself.

Seth is taking both an open-source and a business approach to this. It’s open-source in the sense that he says you can create a lens without him; he just wants to see more of them.

The business approach is what will make this work: You can go to Squidoo, once it’s up, to create a lens and if you do, you’ll benefit in a number of ways: Because it is a co-op, you will get revenue from the (very targeted, high-value) ads and commerce links that appear there. Also, if you create a lens into your own site, you will bring in more traffic from people who know what they are getting into and looking for and you’ll likely improve your search-engine optimization (because, if you really do have the essential espresso starting point, it should rise high in the rankings). So the hope is that people will be motivated to create lenses that make unlimited topics more accessible. The fear, of course, is spam; I’ll be eager to hear how Seth plans to deal with that.

He suggests that this could be used by bloggers, celebrities, media outlets, politicians, and fans. He also suggests that there will be a landrush to the unique URLs (the first espresso site at Squidoo), but I think — or hope — that instead, there’ll be a competition among various lenses to be the best.

Says Seth: “The structured nature of Web 2.0, combined with the folksonomy of tags, makes a lens the perfect middleman between the content and expertise you’ve already got, and the surfers you’ve never met.”

So I should build — and will build — lenses to my site and to topics I care about. It’d also be interesting to see other lenses on the same topic, e.g., my lens on Jay Rosen and Jay’s lens on himself (well, actually, I’d pick a simpler topic).