Archive for the 'algorithm' Category

Algorithm, confirmation bias, or synchronicity

September 19, 2013

I posted the previous post and then went for a walk.  I got back and started on my usual tasks.  I googled “Crow on the Cradle” done by Jackson Browne for accompaniment, and when it was finished, I clicked on another Jackson Browne and David Lindley live performance (turned out to be “Before the Deluge”).  I got treated to an ad first.  It was about how MetLife walked the woman who was testifying in the ad, through the process of applying for life insurance — it was over the phone and easier than she thought.

I usually get ads on YouTube about stain removal.  This MetLife life insurance ad was a first for me, so it stood out.  And yes, it did remind me of my blog post about walking my mom (using a different method) through a phone conversation about a financial matter, despite her apprehension and with a positive reaction to the experience.

Do I know whether there was a material connection between the two incidents?  If I have looked at shoes online and shoe ads pop up on webpages I later browse, I assume cookies and algorithms and whatnot.  Here if what happened was due to such things, it would take a lot more sophistication in the software, so I don’t assume it was the mechanism.  Is it confirmation bias?  The two incidents happened close in time and with not much business in between (basically just my walk).  Is it synchronicity?  I don’t like to get too caught up in terms and definitions.  The way I would put it is that it feels like being an unwitting recipient of an unadvertized “buy one, get one free” special, or like pulling an apple off a tree and having another one fall down beside you as the branch returns to its place.  It doesn’t feel random.  And a mundane mechanism is not obvious to me.

Even without my ego to perceive both events in relation to me, they both happened in close succession in the same locale.  A post goes up, an ad with a similar theme plays on YouTube on the same computer a short time later.



August 19, 2012

I’m not sure whether is employing new software or whether it’s just that the way I’ve used the site has recently triggered something that’s always been there, but I don’t like it.  I consider buying something, and then either they raise the price of the item I’m considering before I decide to buy it or they start sending me emails about even more expensive, related items for sale.  It’s enough to make me change my use of the site.

Similarly with the processes of posting comments to pieces on newspaper, and such, websites.  I long abandoned posting comments on the website of The Boston Globe.   It had turned into a “conversation,” and the results were not, in my opinion, for the better, in terms of quality or interest.  At the time, I didn’t much mind, because I was enjoying posting comments on the NYTimes website.  That was back in the days of the previous commenting format, in which the comments were numbered, for example, and everything was, I think, on a first-come, first-served basis.  And Marie Burns took top prizes.

I think Marie Burns can be found elsewhere on the web.  But there are other aspects to the old process I miss (such as the greater formality of most of the entries), and I am thinking I am detecting the degenerating of the whole enterprise into more casual interactions among commenters — better for the social networking, worse for the content, which I think benefits from focus on ideas, not on their reception.

I’m not against interaction per se, I just think it needs to be structured in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact on the primary enterprise.  I should probably also note that under the current regime at the NYTimes, I personally am able to post my comments without going through moderation — on the Globe website, there is only moderation after the fact, and for everyone, of course, I think.  But I am much less content with the dynamic now at the NYTimes as a whole than I used to be.

I also comment on the PBS NewsHour website, where many fewer comments are posted and I can’t quite figure out the moderation practices.  There the dynamic seems to vary, with some very interesting interactive threads and some seemingly random and oddly-inspired comments.

But, to get back to my original point:  just as I don’t enjoy the apparent algorithm I’m encountering, I find my interest in commenting on the NYTimes changing for the worse — I find myself feeling put off by the dynamic.

My reference to the dynamic on the NewsHour site makes me want to say that I really don’t know what makes an interactive experience satisfying and what doesn’t for me — I suspect for me it’s about openness and a focus on ideas and not personalities.  I wonder whether for others, it’s more enjoyable when it’s quite the opposite and has a greater component of reacting to one another.

I don’t know what the NYTimes’ objective is for their commenting feature.  With Amazon I’m going to suspect it’s pure profit.  So I really don’t know whether to expect that there will be other changes in the future to the commenting feature to try to maintain quality and not just traffic, for example.

I have been contemplating other changes in my life of late, and I’m not sure how this issue fits into that.  I’ll be going away later this week and into the next, so maybe time away will help me determine what I’ll do about all this.  Maybe it will seem to me that the universe is nudging me to go in a different direction from what I’ve been doing and turn to something else.  Things in this world are always changing in some way.  Or maybe I’ll just come back with a different attitude towards the same activities.

Degree days

November 9, 2011

If turning back thermostats is such an energy-saver, why isn’t whether or not one does, and if so, by how much, part of the oil company’s algorithm for determining with their computer program when to schedule the next oil delivery?