The Wisdom of the Crowds is not working.

And the algorithms, Facebook and its attention-whore lookalikes create, are not working either.

People have short attention span nowadays, thus they cannot consume long-form content anymore. They need bite-sized content, a la tweets and TikTok videos

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The Social Dilemma (Netflix)

I may agree with the essence of this idea, but I disagree with the fact that this is an inevitable reality. I believe there is a vicious circle at play here.

With the lack of curation, and with the democratization of content creation, every one and their dog can create content now. And as a consumer, there is no way to know beforehand what content you will find valuable and deserves your attention. You don’t want to invest your time reading a multiple-page essay to realize it is just nonsense. You either skim and miss the point of the essay, or look for bite-sized content that you can judge in a fraction of a second.

Of course, I am not the first one to think about this problem. The Internet thought of it more than a decade ago, and came up with the wisdom of the crowd. Let people vote so they curate the content for themselves. Those Likes, Votes, Thumbs-Ups and Retweets were supposed to solve the problem for us, but they clearly failed to solve the problem.

The problem with the wisdom of the crowd is that it relies on the crowd who created the problem in the first place to solve it. Those 50 people who liked that book on Amazon do not have the same taste as I do. Those 100 people who find this video funny may not have seen the 5 other videos making the same joke before. One thousand people may read the same passage, and each come up with their own conclusion. One person my read a book about habits to be productive, the other reads it to fix their eating habits, and the third is a psychiatrist doing their research. Someone may give a book on Amazon bad rating because the shipment was delayed, another reviewer may just liked its cover and the third was happy its language was not very sophisticated.

We need something better than the wisdom of the crowd. We need something that learns our taste and recommend stuff tailored to us. Does this solution exist?

One my say, this is exactly what Facebook’s and YouTube’s algorithms do. I beg to differ here. They probably have the technical capabilities to build the desired solution, but they have different objectives so they don’t build it. Their objective is to keep us on their platforms long enough, so they can sell our attention to more advertisers.

Facebook cares about our FOMO more than what new things we learn at the end of the day. Amazon wants me to buy more books, not to buy more books that I would find useful. Spotify to some extent have more incentive to recommend music we actually like since it’s a paid service. That’s why everyone finds their recommendations more valuable than that of Facebook and its attention whore lookalikes. Medium is also a paid platform and was supposed to have better recommendations, but their recommendations aren’t any good, and I am not sure why.

The desired solution is not only a technical one, but also a business one. The needed recommendation algorithm should be powerful enough to recommend content the consumer will not think twice before spending a significant amount of time consuming it, and ending up getting real value from it. Yet, it has to have a business model that doesn’t contradict with this objective. It has to know they consumer’s incentive, mood, and take them our of their comfort zone sometimes. It has to have a better way to gauge the value the consumers get, instead of a simplified thumbs-up.

Written by

Machine Learning engineer, Data Visualisation book author, and a bunch of other things, http://www.tarekamr.com/

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