Thursday Jan 15, 2009


Monday Jan 12, 2009


Hmmm.... Bloodsport was a pretty savage movie ...
Via the Failblog

Wednesday Dec 31, 2008

F4761A28-AC13-47F5-9A3C-757B74574663.jpgffwd is a site with a goal of doing for video what and iLike do for music. ffwd uses collaborative filtering to create video channels that are customized for a user.

This week I received an email from ffwd where they excitedly claimed to have some new recommendations for me, including this set of channels that I should check out: ffwd-2.png

Two of these seem to be rather general: Recommendations for 'business' and 'tv show' would be like the local convenience store recommending that I might want to buy some milk and bread. However, it is the third recommendation, the 'panties' channel that caught my eye, so to speak. I didn't recall doing anything on ffwd that would trigger an 'adult' recommendation, so this particular recommendation was a puzzler. I checked out my history on ffwd to see what they know about me to see if I could figure out why they gave me this particular recommendation. It turns out, ffwd knows only a little bit about me - I rated a few shows last year:


Its just typical nerd TV - nothing that should trigger a recommendation for a tour of the nether regions. More than likely, ffwd's collaborative filtering algorithm is just not dealing with sparse data very well, causing it to make freakomendations. Unfortunately for ffwd, these aren't just bad recommendations, they are likely to be offensive to some.

Sure enough, a few days later, I had this email in my inbox:

Subject: apology from the ceo

Dear plamere,

On behalf of the ffwd team, I apologize if our recent email recommendations didn't make sense, or worse, offended you. We are testing a new channel recommendation system and may have put it into service prematurely.

Most subscribers found the suggestions useful, but if you didn't, please be patient as we work out the kinks and simply respond honestly to the recommendations. By ignoring the mistakes, and clicking on the relevant suggestions, you will improve the system for you and all other viewers.

Again I apologize for any offensive recommendations and appreciate your patience as we improve our system.

Happy New Year!

CEO, ffwd

And so it seems, I was not the only one of ffwd's users who received such an recommendation. As corporate apologies go, this is not a bad one, but I don't like this bit "Most subscribers found the suggestions useful, but if you didn't, please be patient...". This seems to imply that if I took offense, it is really my fault, not ffwd's, since most of the ffwd subscribers didn't seem to be offended. If you are going to apologize, just do it, don't waffle or weasel about it.

Monday Dec 22, 2008

Here's another Freakomendation from Amazon. Since you purchased The Starter Kit for the IBM iSeries and AS/400 - Amazon recommends Reducing stress-related behaviors in Persons with Dementia. I've never worked with AS/400 so perhaps this really is a valid recommendation.


Via reddit.

Tuesday Oct 28, 2008

8134BE6A-A5A1-4AE8-BAC9-5D07355C2A9E.jpgHere's a freakomendation from Amazon. If you like the Madchester band Stone Roses you may like marble flowers. stone-flowers.png

Halloween is coming, time to find a costume. If you go to Amazon and search for "terrorist costume", Amazon can't find anything, but they do suggest that you might try the related search 'arab costume' - suggesting that 'terrorist' is synonymous with 'arab'.


Of course, this isn't really the view of Amazon. They don't equate terrorists and Arabs. It just that they have an algorithm that looks for statistical patterns in searches that they use to suggest alternate searches. This algorithm notices that the same people who search for 'terrorist costume' will often search for 'arab costume'. This related search that seems to equate terrorists with Arabs is just a reflection of society's prejudices.

This isn't the first time we've seen a racist recommender. Wal*Mart got into a little bit of trouble when their recommender started to associate films about black historic figures like MLK with the movie Planet of the Apes. Since automatic recommenders are just reflections of the biases of the population at large, the recommenders become a mirror of our society. If the recommender is giving racist recommendations, it is likely that the racism exists in the population at large.

Wednesday Sep 10, 2008

Here's my favorite freakomendation from the iTunes Genius music recommender. The 'Genius' suggest that since I like Led Zeppelin's Stairway to heaven that I might like the song Love will keep us together by The Captain and Tennille.


Thursday Aug 14, 2008

Here's a recommendation from that registers high on the relevance scale but a bit low on the novelty and serendipity scale.

hendrix.png hendrix_novelty2.png

This is not necessarily a bad recommendation from the point of view of a store trying to sell MP3s, but it is just not the best recommendation for someone who is trying to find some new music.

Friday Jun 20, 2008

Netflix suggests that if you liked "Freaks & Geeks" clearly you will like the "Lost Boys of Sudan". And why not, they both have that same fish-out-of-water sense to them.


From Comedy Central insider (Thanks, Zac!)

Monday Jun 16, 2008

Since you like National Lampoon's Animal House, you may like this movie about how the economic conditions in 1930s Germany led to the rise of the Nazis.

(Via Andrew Huff.)

Friday Jun 13, 2008

Here's another Netflix Freakomendation. If you like the HBO Series Big Love (which is an adult show about how a modern-day Utah polygamist who lives in suburban Salt Lake City balances his three wives, seven children, and a mounting avalanche of debt and demands) Netflix recommends the Backyardigans; The Legend of the Volcano Sisters. Strange.

(From zacechola on Flickr)

Tuesday May 27, 2008

borders.png harrypotterborders.png Borders has opened their own online bookstore. Previously, they had relied on Amazon to serve as their online presence. Borders apparently decided that letting another bookstore act as their storefront was not in their best interest. One thing that Borders didn't take with them when they left Amazon was all of their user data - at least it doesn't look like they did. They have no collaborative filtering recommendations at they site at all.

The only recommendations they offer, as far as I can tell, are recommendations for books that have similar metadata. Instead of the Amazonian 'people who bought X also bought Y' Borders offers a "you may also like" recommendations that consist of books that have the same author or of the same genre/category. So if you like Harry Potter, Borders suggests five other Harry Potter books. If you like the Da Vinci Code, Borders suggests 5 other books by DVC author Dan Brown. For a book like Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts, Borders offers no recommendations whatsoever. Malcolm Gladwell's Blink is classified as a 'self improvement' book - Borders freakomends A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose. (It is a bit telling how sparse the Borders user data is when Borders tells me that I can be the first to rate 'Blink').

In the Borders music store, things seem to be a little better. They are showing relevant similar artists. It may be that they are getting this data from All Music since they are already using AMG for artist bios.

I find the lack of relevant, novel recommendations at the Borders bookstore to be quite puzzling. In its brick and mortar stores, Borders has, no doubt, collected terabytes of data about who likes what books. And yet, Borders doesn't seem to be using any of this data in its online store to help connect people with books. Amazon has reported that 35% of its sales are a direct result of their recommendations - so it seems crazy that Borders is not taking advantage of their data to recommend relevant books. With a good recommender, Borders could be selling a whole lot more books.

Thursday May 22, 2008

Here's a rather unusual recommendation. If you are interested in this book by Pat Roberston, the TV Evangelist and notorious homophobe you may be interested in this gay sex manual. This recommendation is not only unusual but it created a bit of a stir in the press and was an embarrassment for Amazon

This freakomendation is a result of a small group of folks purposely manipulating the Amazon recommender. These folks merely had to visit Pat Robertson's book and then visit another book. By coordinating their actions and visiting the same book (the gay sex manual), they were able to manipulate Amazon into making the recommendation that would make Pat Roberston blush.


Credit to Bamshad Mobasher for this freakomendation and the screenshot.

Wednesday May 21, 2008

Our buddies over at matchmine created this video that gives you an idea of what online music recommendation is really like.

How Online Music Recommendations Work Right Now from Nathan Burke on Vimeo via the Matchmine blog

Monday May 19, 2008

netflix.png Because you enjoyed F**k, you will need to see In The Womb (or it may just sit on top of your DVD player for 9 months).

I'm really not making these up.

This blog copyright 2010 by plamere