Sorry to geek out on everyone here, but I'm sitting in a really cool talk with Greg Linden, who is guest lecturing at a data-mining class here at Stanford. Greg is the guy who initially created Amazon's recommendation engine and is talking about the general field of discovery and recommendation engines. Quick summary: search engines help you find what you already know you want. Discovery engines show you what you might want. Big examples of companies using discovery are Tivo, Netflix, Stumbleupon, Pandora and Amazon As some of you may know I'm big into recommendation and discovery engines now, and I'm working on a startup in the space.
Apparently, Amazon has tried to use different recommendation schemes: item-to-item, content-based, and clustering. Apparently item-to-item (people who bought this, bought that) works the best for Amazon. (Of course it's not literally item-to-item, Greg explained, as then you run into the "Harry Potter Problem" that everybody who bought x, probably bought Harry Potter.)
One interesting point Greg brought up was a quote from Peter Norvig:
"Don't worry about the algorithm, worry about the data. - Peter Norvig
The graph below is an interesting representation of the power of data from a paper by Banko and Brill. Shows that the leaders in the recommendation space are most likely to be those who control the most vast amounts of data.
OK, I better post something non-geeky quick, lest I lose all of my readers.
Last week I went to the Cut&Paste graphic design battle in San Francisco. Above is a picture from the event. It was pretty intensely cool. Check out the event description from the website:
Cut&Paste is the live digital design competition that pits eight of their city's best graphic designers against each other in an elimination battle of creativity, technical expertise, and wit. The competitors will work live on stage, in front of an audience and panel of expert judges. An MC will host the festivities and a soundtrack will be provided by hometown favorite DJs .
Recently, Microsoft introduced the Zune. For those of you who haven't heard of this product, the Zune is supposed to be Microsoft's "iPod Killer". Engadget installed the Zune with horrendous (ableit humorous) results. [Thanks to reemer for the link]
It amazes me how you could completely mess up such a high-profile product launch. Consider how much money and effort has been thrown into the development of this product. Doesn't anybody try these things in advance??
We get some great speakers at Stanford, but this event line-up I'm currently at is ridiculous! Check out the list of speakers below. Man, sometimes I really love this school... Starts in 30 minutes.
2006 TechNet Innovation Summit at Stanford University
America's top leaders in technology will discuss emerging industry trends as well as the public policies that will shape the future of our nation. Moderated by award-winning journalist Charlie Rose, this event will be taped for broadcast and will feature:
* Brian Halla, CEO, National Semiconductor * Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO, Netflix * Jerry Yang, Founder, Yahoo! * John Doerr, Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers * Scott McNealy, Chairman, Sun Microsystems * Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft
My buddies over at url.com have a post about MySpace that I can't get out of my head. Basically, they were trying to customize their MySpace page. Everybody knows that a huge part of MySpace is customizing the page, so it must be pretty straight forward to do, right? Not so:
... I went to MY myspace page. “OK, so there must be a link ‘customize
your page’ or something like that so I can paste in this code…” click,
(5 minutes had passed)
“Hmmm, I don’t see a link that says anything about customizing the
page.. OH, is it the ‘manage blog’ link?” click, click. “Hmm.. I see a
link that says ‘Customize Blog’ where I got that screen shot for my
previous post…. maybe it’s here” <- totally confused.
(10 minutes had passed.)
“That was just for customizing the blog not the Myspace page! I
don’t need to customize the blog yet! Just putting a background on
Myspace! Where do I paste in that code!” <- starting to sound more
like users who left confused comments.
Again, when people ask me what I do, I say “I’m a web developer” so
I believe I’m above average in terms of being Internet savvy.
... finally, I carefully read one of the sites, and it said “go to
the edit profile page, and paste it in there.” I was thinking “but I
DID check that page like 100 TIMES, and there was no box that said
“paste your code here to customize your background”
I read it again and again and it said “paste it in the ‘about me’ box”
HUH??? You mean, paste the code for the background in the ‘about me’ box?? You mean like this???
Yes, that's right. To customize your MySpace page, you need to put custom CSS in the "about me" field. Not the "CSS" field, the "bout me" field. This is one of the most unintuitive pieces of design I've ever seen. Yet the crazy thing is that millions of users jumped through this hoop to customize their page.
Why? Perhaps users valued control and customization enough to sacrifice usability? Perhaps MySpace is just resting on its network-effects laurels and doesn't care to make it easier for users to use?
Or perhaps there is something appealing about the bad design- customizing your page almost seems like a hidden trick and that makes it more exciting. I'm reminded of the secret menu at In-N-Out Burger, where customers in the know can order a "double double animal style". There's something appealing about knowing these "hacks", little "secrets" which differentiates the experienced users from the new users. New friends are forced to ask you how to do it and you explain it to them. The act of learning and subsequently passing on these little "hacks" builds excitement and loyalty around the experience.