Sunday, February 05, 2006

What's relevant anyway? Relevant to what and to who?

Dave Taylor has a post entitled "Why I really don't like Memeorandum". The core issue is the concept of relevance, and its relationship to popularity. My comments:


The sad fact is that so many people are really into popularity as their primary filter.

Sure, we can envision alternative approaches to filtering and prioritizing which adapt to each user's profile, but there is probably only a very tiny audience of us who really do care about anything distinct from raw popularity.

Given a choice between truth and popularity, I suspect that most people will instantly (and instinctively) take popularity in a heartbeat.

So many people desperately want to be associated with what is "in" and "trendy". They want what's "hot", not what's not.

To your point, what is the meaning of the term "relevant"? Simple: In this particular context, something is relevant if it is relevant to *popularity*. See, relevance is actually a fairly neutral term, a kind of tool. You need to focus on the *object* of relevance, the "what", and in the case of Google and its followers, the object of relevance *is* popularity, that which represents the direction that the herd is moving.

You (and I) and too few others would like a mechanism to *tell* these applications what our own preferences and priorities are, and then the applications will filter and order the results in a way that is *relevant* to *our* own personal interests. But even if all online applications did so, there is still the herd mentality that would want to "go with the crowd", and go with a popularity vote of priorities.

Of course, you could also have a feature that allowed the user to select another user or group and request to see results filtered and ordered according to that other party's interests.

The real problem here is that we need a lot more basic research into a lot of this stuff. People are putting these web sites up with far too little thought about the core issues. So many of them would barely even be acceptable as undergraduate term projects (or at least that would be the case if schools had reasonable standards of quality). Yes, give them an "A" for cuteness, but a "D-" (and "do over") for failure to deliver meaningful, durable social value. And I'm being overly-generous with that "D-". It proably should be an "F-" and the threat of expulsion.

Enough with all the web equivalents of pet rocks and hula hoops... show me some real value.

-- Jack Krupansky


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