Author Archive

Arrington Still Convinced that Human Editor is a “Dying Breed”

October 2, 2007

Although there definitely seems to be some angst out there over the quality of the links on the Digg and Reddit front pages, Michael Arrington is still convinced that the human editor is a “dying breed”. So is crowd sourcing not working because people are too lazy to rate links (as Arrington suggests) or are Digg and Reddit vulnerable to spam (the plethora of Ron Paul links would suggest that they are)?

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Kick-Ass Facebook News Application

September 25, 2007

Antlook has quietly released News for Facebook. Antlook’s personalized news feed is almost eerily good and the move to Facebook takes Antlook in an interesting direction.

Coupling Antlook’s powerful recommendation engine with Facebook’s social graph adds a fun social dimension to news reading. Friends see each other’s reading in their Facebook feeds. And, as one’s Facebook friends join Antlook’s internal social network, they influence their friends’ personal news feeds just by reading.

Check it out.

Geeky Personalized RSS Service FeedHub Grinds to Crawl

September 25, 2007

At DEMOfall yesterday, mSpoke announced FeedHub a Personalized RSS service that purportedly takes an OPML file and creates a personalized RSS feed. After an annoying registration process that requires YAP (yet another password) and uploading an OPML file, a magic personalized RSS URL is created. Unfortunately, the only content on the feed is this:

If you just created your feed, don’t worry — we’re choosing some great content based on what we’ve learned from your OPML.

Important note! Because of the enthusiastic response to our launch at DEMOFall this week, we are a bit overwhelmed with the number of new feeds being created and are actively beefing up our infrastructure to meet the demand. While you can normally expect to see new content in your feed every 3-4 hours, it will currently take 24 hours to start getting content in your new feed.

(emphasis mine)

Sigh. I’d like to evaluate the quality of their personalization, but that’ll have to wait for another day.

Scoble reports that it doesn’t work for him.

Facebook Ads to “Generate Demand”, Sink AdWords: Not Bloody Likely

August 23, 2007

The Wall Street Journal reports today on Facebook’s ad targeting plans. Currently, advertisers can target ads based on age, sex, and location. The new service would allow ads to be targeted based on all the information that users post in their profiles (e.g. favorite movies, music, schools attended, religion, political views, etc.).

Both the Journal and TechCrunch make like Facebook’s ad approach is going to poise a serious challenge to AdWords. I’m skeptical.

A few problems:

  1. While it is truly amazing how much people will disclose about themselves in their profiles, this information is explicit and is therefore biased (as discussed earlier).
  2. Some Facebook applications are injecting meaningful implicit information into the system (e.g. the Twitter and del.icio.us Facebook apps), but when Facebook fatigue sets in, will Facebook have enough of this information to target accurately?
  3. AdWords’ “demand fulfillment” approach–targeting based on what the user is searching at the moment–is far more powerful than Facebook’s proposed “demand generation” approach, which will try to predict interests from much older, more static profile information.
  4. Users are just having waaay too much fun on Facebook to notice ads. As the WSJ states:

    “The addictive quality of social networking means users are so busy reading about their friends that they hardly notice display ads and, even if they do, are loath to navigate away to an advertiser’s site. Advertisers say the percentage of people that click on display ads is lower on Facebook…”

Facebook at War with Abusive Applications

August 17, 2007

Facebook is an incredibly rich communications medium.  It’s also ripe for exploitation by abusive applications.

TechCrunch reports that Facebook is cracking down on abusive Facebook applications. The first form of abuse are applications that install profile boxes that appear differently to the installing user than to his friends. The installing user sees something benign, but friends see a big yellow spam box that screams: “INSTALL THIS APPLICATION NOW!”.

The second form of abuse, relates to notification fraud. Just last night I ran into this with the My Questions application. After installation, it primed itself with a question I never asked “What’s your favorite drink?”. I asked no such thing and was annoyed that my friends would be bothered with such nonesense. Encouragingly, Facebook is cracking down on this form of abuse as well.  Here, however, they lack a technical fix.

CACM Cover Story: Privacy Enhanced Personalization

August 15, 2007

The cover story of this month’s CACM is on privacy-enhanced personalization. Alfred Kobsa (UC Irvine professor and father of the field of privacy-enhanced personalization) devotes most of the piece to surveying privacy-related usability research. Most of the findings seem like common-sense:

  • Users tend to overvalue small, immediate benefits to disclosing personal information and undervalue potential future negative consequences.
  • Users fall into one of three camps: privacy fundamentalists (disclose nothing), the unconcerned (disclose everything), and privacy pragmatists (make sensible trade-offs)–with the two former classes on the decline and pragmatists on the rise.
  • Users value transparency (knowing how personal data will be used) and control.
  • Users will disclose more to established web sites and sites that have a professional appearance and a privacy policy.

No surprises there.

The tail end of the piece–where Kobsa surveys privacy-enhancing technology–is less fluff. The notable points there:

  • Client-side personalization is very limiting. Duh.
  • Allow pseudonymous access if you can. OK.
  • In collaborative filtering systems, perturb input data to hide users’ true values or deliberately introduce noise in the data, so that users can plausibly deny responsability for any potentially embarrassing data. Interesting ideas.

Intriguingly, he mentions a peer-to-peer approach to collaborative filtering that “allows users to privately maintain their own individual ratings, and a community of users to compute an aggregate of their private data…using homomorphic encryption…[and then for] personalized recommendations to be generated at the client side”. However, no citation for this work is provided.

Sep Kamvar: Personalized Search is Subtle (But is it useful?)

August 13, 2007

Read/Write Web has a nice interview with Google’ personalization guru Sep Kamvar.

In response to privacy questions, Sep emphasizes the amount of choice, transparency, and control in Google’s Web History (the richest source of personalized data)–though not in location acquisition (which is another key personalization input). Ultimately, however, Sep concedes that the effect of personalization on search rank is subtle and that users value having a diverse set of results rather than a narrow personalized set.

Sep points to an article in the Financial Times (by Google’s global privacy council, Peter Fleischer) that gives some compelling examples of how personalization can provide important context to disambiguate poorly or informally formulated search queries. I remain somewhat skeptical of the value of highly personalized search. The value is much harder to see with search (where someone is looking for something specific) than it is with news (where someone merely wants quality info-tainment).