Stupid Web

John Naughton (amongst others) has been critical of Google Buzz. Buzz has been criticised for trying to second guess and provides what John describes as a category mistake”. I have the same feeling about a lot of the tools that fall under the ‘semantic web’ banner at trying to provide some level of cleverness, in this case it’s very basic looking at your contact list and the people you converse with most. I’ve had a similar experience with Amazon.

The problem with Amazon is that it doesn’t store context. The context of some of my purchases (rubber ducks for my niece) is a one off buy that will never be repeated, the horsey books for my partner are repeat purchases but I think Amazon misses a trick because I’d buy a lot more from Amazon if it gave me stuff that’s contextually relevent to me and what I need at the time. That’s difficult to do because I usually go elsewhere for technology purchases but I hardly ever get recommendations for gadgets from Amazon and if I did I would probably be tempted to buy them. Amazon can’t read my mind and the Venn diagram that includes “bath toys for 2 year olds, books about agile programming techniques and horsey books” is quite a small one so the recommendations I receive are Amazons guess at what I will buy based on what I’ve bought in the past.

So what would help ? – Something that tells Amazon about things that interest me most. Something that can explain to Amazon when I’m “browsing” or when I’m actually engaging with something deeply and emotionally. Hmmm…that would be me then.

So that centre of the universe is the individual…or is it ‘collective intelligence’ which is the newest buzz trend (but not a new concept) to try and find out the wisdom of crowds and apply it to web problems. See the problem here is that Americans voted for Bush….and then they did it again. I’m not entirely sure about the wisdom of crowds. The wisdom of peer groups perhaps but I’m not sure that I want to know what ‘the great unwashed’ are twittering about today. I think it’s likely to be a bit dull….and I’ve  looked so I think I know. What are people tweeting about today? “valentines” – what a surprise.

So I still think we’ve got a pretty stupid web. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think the Amazon site gives me interesting suggestions (BTW  I have twice bought a ‘bundle’ under the ‘people that bought this item also bought that too!’)  so it does work. Similarly I do occasionally when I’m bored click on one of the popular hashtags to see whats being said but I would say that I spend more time doing my own research from following ‘known good’ paths than from following paths provided for me.

Perhaps this will change but I hope in a way that people’s own higher order analytical skills remain the primary means of sifting information, otherwise we’ll have a world of people who just believe anything they read and buy anything popular for the sake of it…. iPad anyone?

Oh and while we’re at it what’s going on with Wolfram Alpha …not beta yet? – have people lost interest?

p.s. On the Amazon site I’ve just gone in from my home machine which uses my partners account. Finally now I have recommendations for gadgets that I was looking for all along. All Amazon need to do is send her recommendations to me! Happy Valentines day – 🙂

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About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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