Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Recommendation Engines

I have always been interested in how recommendation engines decide what I might like and eventually borrow or buy on a website or guess who are my friends and acquaintances and add them to my social network. My local Library recently updated its website and as a part of its new features, it also tries to recommend titles.

Recommendations are not easy. I know that Netflix and Amazon have teams of dedicated scientists working on their algorithms to tweak it all the time. Or for that matter Facebook and LinkedIn use extremely creepy measures to figure out who should be in your network. My local library however (I guess) has chosen the easier route. What it does is – it just shows what other books were borrowed by people who borrowed the book you are looking at.

Though this kind of system can work for movies, it fails miserably for books. So when I was trying to borrow the “The data warehouse toolkit” again, it ended up showing me the following:

Book recommendations

Now none of the books are even remotely connected to computing (forget data warehousing). It is just a sad reminder of the fact that everything you do anywhere these days gets tracked. 6 out of the 9 books recommended are actually what I had borrowed while I was reading the data warehouse book last time around. This just proves 2 things to me – the book that I am reading is not that popular anymore (cause no one else is reading it) and the other person ( the 3 other books) who is reading it has a kid.

As for me, I have a mom that shares my library card and she only reads fiction. So there you go. Books, unlike movies are read individually by each person in a family. So when Netflix recommends it assumes that the entire family sits together and watches the movie (along with a host of other statistical and creepy factors that it uses to determine your taste). However, library cards are shared across a family, and books that I read have no correlation with the ones that anyone else in my family reads.

I hope this data is not used any where else to determine my tastes. I do not read fiction at all. FYI only.

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