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March 1, 2005
Popularity Slider: Diving into the long tail
The general idea of a recommender system is that it asks for a few examples of things you like and then gives you more things it thinks you might like, based on its knowledge of other people’s preferences.
One problem you can often run into when using a recommender system is a bias towards popular items, which are not really that close to what you like but have the favor of many users because of their high visibility. For instance, based on my subscriptions, the Bloglines recommender keeps suggesting that I have a look at Slashdot, always putting it near the top of its list of suggestions. The effect of designs like this, of course, is is to reinforce the “short head” (as opposed to the “long tail”) by directing users towards the roads well traveled.
An easy way to mitigate this is to selectively decapitate the recommendation engine’s results. Last year I blogged about Andrew Grumet’s “Similar Feeds”, which implements this. I just came across a music filtering site that makes the feature more prominent and intuitive by putting a nice, fat “popularity slider” right at the top of recommendations pages. Try playing with the slider on this page to see how it works.
I like how things like this underscore the idea that “this is popular” is not the same as “you’ll like it”.
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