Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I am my Cart

Great article in the New York Times Sunday magazine My Cart, My Self about what the personalization features of Amazon, Netflix, Pandora and the like say about knowing one's self. The author laments that some of the recommendations are uncanny and some are crazy. He states "The only thing worse than being misperceived by a machine is being expertly perceived by one." 

As product recommendation engines become better and power more content, they are every-hungry for the slightest behavior or inclination that could indicate a preference, bias, or proclivity to like something. That may work great in a vacuum when it is action and response but most people's lives are a little more complicated than that. As the author explains, he shares the account with his girlfriend and manages the Netflix family account which further muddies his eclectic taste in film 

What annoys me about the recommendation “engines” that drive e-commerce nowadays is their denial that I possess free will, or at least their denial that I often exercise it. I’m told that the programs rely on algorithms that mimic the workings of my cultural intellect, which must mean that I’m an algorithm, too. I’m not, though. I’m a complicated oddball, eccentric, eclectic and erratic — prized traits now reduced to irritable rejection of ubiquitous recommendations on my e-commerce sites.
As consumers move beyond the delight of relevant recommendations and start to notice the near and far misses, how will recommendation product engines react? Amazon has a nice treatment in its account management portal to allow consumers to review past purchases and declare whether a previous item was a gift (and therefore not relevant to personal tastes) or simply not to consider the purchase in future recommendations. This is a great feature I've used to view my 13+ years of purchases (like a time capsule of retailing!) but Amazon does nothing to promote this capability to the masses. Maybe because they don't want people to try to battle the algorithm. It will be interesting to watch Amazon's decision to communicate this capability to the public and decide that consumers are ready to guide their own recommendations or continue to be a victim of it. And of course it only works on purchases and not browsed items. You'll still get the recommendations on site and through email on that item you looked at once passively or researched but had no intent on buying.

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