Recommendation Technologies Are Still “Very Stupid”

You’ve probably seen automatic suggestions at services like Amazon or iTunes (“You might also like…”). These are powered by recommendation technologies. Ashton Kutcher had a lot to say about social recommendation technologies at TechCrunch Disrupt yesterday (around 14 minutes into the video):

As social recommendation is being built, I think we’re being shown a lot of things that are like the things that we already like. In some ways the technology is still very stupid. We haven’t been able to isolate that which would be the diametric opposite of what we like, and thereby create challenge or conflict, which then creates ownership, which then creates appreciation, which then creates retention of users. That kind of conflict actually creates connectivity and creates social engagement… Conflict is enticing.

Insightful. I think recommendation technologies also shelter us from internal conflict. Exposure to news, books, and music that are in conflict with our current beliefs or interests can force us out of our comfort zone. It’s there, on the periphery of our present self-conception, where extremely rewarding growth and learning can occur.

Great recommendation technologies should push our limits, not keep us locked within them.

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