the anti-recommendation engine


This post originally appeared on Facebook

Having gone through the pain of lugging many heavy boxes and setting up shelves across multiple home relocations over 2015 I’ve pretty much sworn off physical books and have become a vocal advocate for digital books (e and recently audio).

Further as a serial buyer/downloader of books on Kindle & Overdrive, of course, I have succumbed to the Recommendation Engine.

A clever feature, keenly absorbing my unique and, dare I say, eclectic tastes and customizing the virtual book-shelf to suit my interests. What better means to sate the ego? Why can’t Goodreads come up with a recommendation engine? And why can’t Wikipedia tell me what others reading this page also read? What about Reddit?

Then in late December, I happened to step into a quaint little book shop (did these things still exist?) It was meant to be a quick sojourn to take in the smell of fresh paper, feel a bit nostalgic about the Borders that once stood at Wheelock Place, and to smirk at “who-are-these-types-who-still-visit-book-shops” and more importantly “who-are-these-types-who-still-run-book-shops”

I picked up half a dozen books under the “you-false-prophet” glare of my wife and continued to wander around long after bills were paid until the impatient Mrs. had to nearly drag me out of there.

In order to understand what had happened I only need look at the books I purchased.

They were, as you might have guessed, well outside the comfy Recommendation Engine echo-chamber/cubby-hole that the Amazons of the world had created for me. Somewhere a Hidden Markov Model had slotted me into “Sci-Fi/Pop-Science/Self Improvement/Tech Start-ups” bucket and helpfully filtered out the rest of literature.

I think there is real value in stepping out of the Recommendation Engine zone. The answer is not in stepping back into book shops. The answer is in finding an Anti-Recommendation Engine or building one if it doesn’t already exist.

Not just one for books. Perhaps one for Facebook as well.