Monday, October 19, 2015

Algorithms: Not all they're algo'ed up to be

I got an email the other day from one of the internet's Original Gangstas, eBay, and this was the subject line:
"Clark, we thought of you when we saw these items."
Aw! Of course, I don't believe for a minute that anybody with eBay ever actually thinks about me for any reason whatsoever. This is some kind of assumed preferences drawn together from a computer algorithm that analyzes what I've purchased or looked at on the site in the past. Still, I find it sweet that their random email generator was considerate enough to lie to me about it. I was interested in what they had to say so of course I opened it and the first thing I was was this:
Right on! I like Star Wars toys as much as any adult male my age (okay, maybe a little more than most but not nearly as much as some). We were off to a pretty good start.

Scrolling a little further down, this was the next thing they had to offer me:
Oog. I don't think so. I don't know why exactly, but over the last few years, I've developed a certain annoyingly smug level of pizza snobbery. No offense to Dominos; I just don't like any of those take-out pizza chains any more. I used be an enthusiastic backer of the "there's no such thing as bad pizza" philosophy but something must have happened that was so horrific that I've apparently blocked it from my memory. I vaguely remember an especially awful order from Pizza Hut a few years ago. That was probably it. Sorry, Dominos; Pizza Hut fucked it up for you, Papa John's and everybody else.

Also, who knew you could get pizza via eBay?

Further also, did you know that if you type "ebay", you get this:
The squiggly red underline is the universal helpful hint to run a quick spell check so you can either spell a word correctly or replace what might be typo gibberish. But when you type "eBay", the correct company name but still a word that doesn't mean anything (gibberish), you don't. Anybody else find that a little corporately Big Brother-y? No? Okay then.

Moving on...

Then we arrived at this:
Something about this collection of three items seems kind of... arbitrary. 
A computer? Okay. 
A chainsaw? Huh? 
And I don't even know what that last thing is. A crossbody wristlet? Do you wear it on your torso or your wrist? And why? All-in-one? What are the "all"s? Is that a photo or a drawing? Most importantly, what about it made eBay think I would ever want one?

I'd say that overall this ad was 1-for-6 in terms of things that interest me. That's a .167 batting average.
Just like the great Astyanax Douglass
That's not gonna get it done, eBay. Step yo' algorithm game up.

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