You know what the most fundamental problem with predictive algorithms is currently? I’m talking about predictive things like Google’s Prediction API or Amazon’s Recommended or any of the other shopping-related predictive logic/Big Data packages available to us. The problem is that they are firmly rooted in past history, which means that innovative recommendations are an impossibility. Discovery is an impossibility right now.
For example, in Facebook’s Graph Search, you can ask it for recommendations:
When you do, it gives you what people who are your friends like:
There’s a lot of truth to “like attracts like”: I’ve heard and in some cases liked every musician displayed by these results. Nothing here is a discovery. Nothing here is something new, something that I wouldn’t have thought to have tried out. Now bear in mind, the algorithm behind this is working perfectly: it’s finding common grounds and similarities among my friends and presenting them. But there’s nothing new here. In the case of Facebook’s Graph Search, in order to see truly new stuff here, I’d need to make more than a few new friends who aren’t like my existing friends in order to discover some very different music to try out.
This presents a problem to marketers as well. If you’ve got a brand new product that no one has heard of and that no one likes, the algorithms will tend to reinforce the status quo. Breaking into a new market will be more difficult because all of the existing recommendations don’t include you.
This is why it’s becoming increasingly important (for good or ill) to get the buy-in of “influencers”. The people with the largest social graphs, the people with the largest numbers of connections, actually do matter for more than just a high school popularity contest. If you’re a company with a brand new product and you don’t have a strong base already, you will need those influential, large audiences to populate the recommendation engines and get into the “Your friends liked” listings.
It’s a strange parallel: in the old days, as far back as ancient Rome, you needed a powerful patron to support and finance your art, your business, your organization. For a short while in the online world, it was an open, level playing field, but with these new predictive algorithms, we’re back to the patron model with a twist: now it’s marketing patrons endorsing you and giving you their blessing (and access to their audiences) in order to move your business forward. The person is the platform.
Are you prepared for this future? Are you building your platform now so that wherever you work, your value is amplified by your platform? Is your business building its own platform of trusted influencers so that you’re showing up in recommendation engines? If not, you’re going to miss out on many more opportunities.
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Isn’t Target’s predictive shopping patterns an exception to this? That’s what got them publicity when the teen’s pregnancy was announced to her father through shopping correlations. I don’t believe their was a friend network involved, but similar to Amazon’s “people who shopped for X also bought Y”.