Social Cataloging May Be Trapping Users In A Bubble
Netflix, Goodreads, Amazon, Pandora, Flixster, StumbleUpon and Facebook’s services all depend on algorithms and user-selected preferences to determine what new data users may like.
Despite the algorithm’s heavy dependence on user input, however, there are times when the suggested media are completely off the radar from what users like. The reason behind this is simply because people do the analyzing before a computer categorizes the information.
Although the automated music recommendation service Pandora takes into account user preferences for future selections, the musical attributes of the songs were assigned by a single group of people, according to its website.
“We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or ‘genes’ into a very large Music Genome,” the site claims. “Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical identity of a song – everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.”
Pandora started as a project where 30 music theory experts manually assess 400 musical attributes over the span of five years. The result is the website spewing both popular and obscure songs that attempt to appeal to users’ tastes.
Because music can be subjective, Pandora’s next selection won’t always be accurate. The only way for users to tell how inaccurate the algorithm is working for them is by keeping track of how many skips they use every hour (the limit is six per hour).
With media services like Pandora, Netflix, Flixster and Amazon, a selective group of people is in control of discoveries customers can make. Meanwhile, Goodreads, Facebook and StumbleUpon all appeal to the contextual side of the brain in a way that affects a person’s opinions.
Goodreads, Facebook and StumbleUpon draw from their users’ personal interests, political views and hobbies. The top suggested books, news and other information are actually based on the preferences of other users who have similar views, instead of a wider, broader and random selection. Facebook is especially guity of approach with its layout designs, which categorizes information users deem important instead of leaving it strictly chronological.
Before Facebook’s new layout debut on Wednesday, users had to take the extra step of clicking “Most Recent” to view posts in chronological order. Otherwise, Facebook determined what the top news stories were.
Users should be wary of this system because it limits them from experiencing new things. A like-minded group can only provide a limited scope, after all.
Reach reporter Rosa Trieu here.
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