by Mike Masnick

If You Liked This Post, Perhaps You'd Like To Look At The History Of Failed Recommendation Systems

from the we-recommend-you-read-this-article dept

For years, we've been hearing about the holy grail of the perfect recommendation system -- and yet, every time these systems fail to live up to the hype. Early on in the web days, there was FireFly and its amazingly overhyped collaborative filtering system that was supposed to revolutionize the space. Others have come and gone, and while the systems have improved marginally, they're still far from useful on a regular basis. They're either exceptionally limited, or they tend to provide mostly obvious solutions. That is, of course, if they can provide decent recommendations at all. There was the famous article a few years ago in the Wall Street Journal about how people were noticing when their TiVo's recommendation system thought they were gay after they recorded a "gay" show. It's gotten so bad lately that Netflix has resorted to throwing up its arms and asking programmers everywhere for help.

That's why it's a little surprising to see Fortune Magazine claim that these types of personal recommendation systems are somehow the next big thing. It's true that they've always been something of a holy grail for marketing types, who would love to be able to provide more accurate and relevant choices to you at all times. However, we're still a long way away from that. While some of the hype over personalization in the ad space got swept aside when Google figured out how to do better keyword matching and contextual advertising, many now believe that this kind of "discovery" advertising -- recommendations based on what you're like, rather than what you like or what you just searched for -- is the future. The problem is that it's not an easy problem to solve, and the long history that's littered with failures in the space would suggest that just claiming you've got the best solution (or performing simple parlor tricks, as one group does in the article) isn't actually enough to signal a revolution.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • identicon
    TTX1, 20 Nov 2006 @ 1:38pm

    I loved this article!

    thanks for the reco!

    all kidding aside, doesn't it boil down to constantly changing option sets? as long as variables keep changing, it's hard to predict how groups and subgroups and individuals will respond to new choices as they become available. a truly difficult problem!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Neal, 20 Nov 2006 @ 1:53pm


    When Amazon gets it right I'll know things are turning for the better, but I don't see that coming for quite a while. I've purchased over one hundred art books, have thirty in my wish lists, I rate books I look at and/or buy, I say which ones I'm interested in and which I'm not Still, Amazon can't make a recommendation worth the price of the bandwidth it took to send the page.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2006 @ 2:57pm

      Re: Amazon

      Amazon makes great recommendations for me, it's just a little slow. By the time they recommend a book, I generally already have it. :-)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2006 @ 2:11pm

    Im not advertising here and anyway this site is free. But if u want to see some reccomendation in action just checkout Sometimes itll work perfect for me, other times it starts throwing stuff at me I would never want to listen to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Haywood, 20 Nov 2006 @ 2:52pm

    I really don't want any recommendations

    If I want something I shop for it and buy it. The chances that has anything to do with what I will buy next are pretty slim. I may need a new monitor, do my research and find one that crosses the line of cost / benefit and buy that one. The next thing I may need is a backhoe muffler. Exactly how is any program going to make any sense of that. I welcome recommendations just as much as I do telemarketing calls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stu, 20 Nov 2006 @ 3:30pm

    Why would I believe Wall Street predictions about the "next big thing"?

    Wall street only has one goal - to make you buy and sell and repeat that cycle often. Therefore, they have no credibilty.

    Any profits or losses you experience by following their recommendations are of no interest to them.

    Ooooh - it must be the next big thing - Wall Street says so. NOT!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mousepaw, 20 Nov 2006 @ 5:36pm

    failed recommedation systems

    I read a thing on recommendation theory, the other day, as relates to advertising and what we're going to have to deal with in the future.

    TiVo and TV on Demand are going to change all this just as soon as they figure out how to get cameras into their equipment (that digital box over top of your tv) and sell us on the idea that being constantly watched is a good thing.

    Allegedly, they're going to watch (and guage) our reactions to commercials and then decide what commercials to send, based on our reactions. Did we get up and walk away from that truck commercial? Are we watching, in rapt attention, to that sexy lingerie commercial?

    And what are our children doing?

    What does it take to keep our attention? (And whose attention do they want to keep?)

    You don't need a person to decide this, the technology is available for computers to do this.

    Conspiracy theory or just a matter of time?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tom, 22 Nov 2006 @ 10:15am


    It isn't new by any means but the systems are geting smarter for sure. Netflix derives a good portion of thier revenue from thier recommendation system so much so that other DVD rental services have added recommendations to thier sites. Netflix is even ponying up 1mill to the person or group that can increase the recommendations systems acurracy by 10 percent (not easy).

    As computers get faster and there are more datapoints to collect these systems will become better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AmbroseChapel, 23 Nov 2006 @ 1:47am

    False Negatives, False Positives

    I loved "Long Kiss Goodnight" and I loved "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", but I will never rent or buy a "Lethal Weapon" movie, despite the fact the same script writer is responsible for them all.

    Why not? Because I hate Mel Gibson, because he's a racist, sexist, homphobic bigot and holocaust denier.

    How is a recommendation system supposed to figure that out? A vector in n-dimensional space with a dimension just for Mel?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    WhiteRabbit, 4 Dec 2006 @ 7:28am

    I personally think that music recommendation systems such as are the most effective. logs the music you are listening to and uses this to build a personal history/profile. This is then compared to thousands of other profiles to see which people have the most similar listening habits to your own (your 'neighbours'). Music that these people like that you have not yet listened to is then recommended to you (and it works very well!).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    david, 15 Jan 2007 @ 6:25am

    brand new nokia n95i just................$500usd

    We have all brand and Model of Mobile phones , we specialised in the sales and promotion of the most demanding Network services e.g like T-MOBILE US, T-Mobile Hong kong, ORANGE SERVICES, VODAFONE SERIVES,CINGULAR WIRELESS and all kinds of TVs. Our phones are accompany with letter of authenticity and has 18months international warranty and information warranty. We operate a 100% RETURN POLICY GUARANTEE , we reach the world through first class realiable courier like DHL, FEDEX and UPS with 48hrs fast delivery.We have the integrity that we have been maintaining for the past 15 years of operation ,we have never for once disappointed our invaluable customers our rules and regulation are so soft comply with and also we would like you to know that we are the award winning company in Hong kong for the year 1995,1998,2000,2001,2004 till date.

    get back to us
    address:12/F, 248 Queen's Road East,
    Hong Kong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.