It’s the quintessential e-book problem: how can you find something good online given all the mountains and mountains of terrible stuff that’s out there on the Internet? There’s plenty of terrible stuff out there, and not just bad self-published works either. There’s also stuff that’s good but you just plain wouldn’t like. How is anyone supposed to find the stuff they would enjoy?
But as Wired reports, the Internet slushpile issue is not a problem faced by e-books alone. Any and every media delivery service has the exact same issue. YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, et cetera—their users are all missing out on what they would actually consider “good stuff” all the time. So how do you find them more good stuff and keep them invested in using your service?
You redesign your service and apps to make it easier, it would seem. That’s why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have all moved to an “algorithmic” feed that shows “more important” stuff at the top rather than flat chronological order. YouTube has completely redesigned its Android and iOS app to offer viewers a single feed of recommended videos, gleaned from information Google has about what videos you’ve watched in the past, and when and where you’ve watched them. The Wired article goes into some detail about how this is done.
But the interesting thing is to consider what the article doesn’t mention: e-books. As stated above, there are considerably more e-books, even more actually good e-books, than we would have time to read. But we might need smarter methods of finding them. Could some of these methods that YouTube and others are refining be brought to bear on e-books, too?
Given that Amazon is just about as big a data monster as Google is, it’s probably inevitable. The only question is when it’s going to happen. At the moment, Amazon recommendations are fairly simplistic and not terribly apt. If I go to Amazon right now, I see a whole row of earbuds—perhaps because I searched and clicked on them when I was reviewing this set a couple of weeks ago.
Not so many of the rest of the reviews seem terribly exciting, either. They’re basically a thrown-together list of keyword searches based on things I googled and browsed into—but I’m not interested in buying all those things. Often I wanted more information about them, but didn’t actually want them. But Amazon just throws everything at the wall to see what sticks.
Although in that post I just linked, I thought it was just as well Amazon wasn’t targeting its recommendations better, since then I have gotten a little frustrated that Amazon is doing such a terrible job. I actually kind of would like to be shown things I like, and I do look forward to seeing what the new YouTube interface will look like. I’m not so concerned about loss of privacy—I’m just one person among many, and I can’t imagine anyone would be particularly interested in what I do. Anyway, I want to see what these super-smart computers think I’ll like. Amazon isn’t doing so well at it, but perhaps these media services can.