Why More Is Less – The Paradox of Choice

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by: Gary Hayes

The LA Times just found me – interesting after only a few days of using Google’s customized front end I am starting to get really useful things thrust my way – useful this ’semi-personalization’ thing – it watches what I search and starts to suggest things I ‘may’ like.

Joking apart we all ‘get’ this principle but why is there still resistance from some quarters? People love TiVo for this and other reasons, we prefer individualized news (and eventually advertising) and we find music, films and books in far more compelling ways on Amazon. In fact blogging is the worlds largest collaborative filter if you think about it – millions of interconnected people commenting on and having ‘preferences’ about everything. Anyway back to the story…serendipity comes out of less choice not more.

As I was just about to put a page up about this topic an excellent and spookily ‘timed’ (must be that global shared conciousness thing) post just appeared today in the LA Times called Telling You What You Like  which covers some of the main themes/issues of Personalization:
– Recommenders
– Too much choice, unnavigable content portals – the paradox
– Preference engines
– Collaborative Filtering
– Commonality Engines
– Human or machine based algorithms
– Review based recommendation tools

From the article

“We lose that sense of community we had when there were shared cultural experiences, even though we may not have liked them. Now we can create our own cocoon and keep all that unpleasant stuff out.”

said Barry Schwartz author of the The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less. He points out that beyond a certain threshold of number of things to choose from

“It paralyzes people into indecision,”

We have all been there. A new feature on Google, video search and you sit there, blocked thinking of what you actually want to search for! The article also points out the benefits of personalization engines in making sure all content gets a look in – in fact providing far greater access to the ‘long tail’ than otherwise would have happened.

At Rhapsody 90% of its database of more than 1 million songs are played at least once every month, thanks in part to the service’s preference system.

This is excellent news for the future of on-demand everything over global hyper-broadband networks. It would be absurd to think that we will ‘only’ manually search for that certain ’something’ from the trillion items available on-demand. The article does point out limitations that can occur with current technology – that taste in music, film, books, art etc is such an organic, unpredictable thing in humans and can change quickly – that any shifts in a persons interests and passions cannot be truly reflected immediately in even the best engines. But one can imagine that once we start to link together preference engines over the next decades we may even be able to predict even those shift patterns based on understanding more and more subtlety in human interactions with media and games.

Finally to counteract some of the constant noise that personalization engines limit choice a final quote from the article

“Previous Internet researchers, including myself, thought that the promise of the Internet was that it would drive down prices and produce more efficient commerce,” he said. “That missed the forest for the trees. The biggest role of the Internet was to help you find products you wouldn’t have otherwise come across.”

Original Post: http://www.personalizemedia.com/index.php/2005/09/22/why-more-is-less-the-paradox-of-choice/