For better or for worse, we live in the age of the algorithm. Remember when you used to log into your Facebook account and you’d be presented strictly with a reverse chronological view of your “news feed.” And when you “liked” or “followed” a business page, you’d be shown every one of their posts in the same way that you’d see all of your friends’ posts in that same reverse chronological view? Those days are gone.
Remember when you’d go over to YouTube and the front page would be populated with content from your subscribed channels? That page still exists, but it’s not at the front anymore. Instead, you’re shown videos and channels that the algorithm *thinks* that you’d like. And that can be a good thing for discovery, but much like the Facebook algorithm, it’s also how you fall deeper and deeper into an echo chamber.
You keep being shown more and more of the same, narrowing your scope further and further, simply reaffirming any preconceived notions or viewpoints that you may have. Some may say that’s why the political situation in the United States (and around the world for that matter) has turned into what it has. If you don’t like or agree with what someone has to say, you can unfollow or block them. That way, you only get messages you’ve already demonstrated you like and agree with.
Where Are Vincent’s Picks?
Despite all the apparent pitfalls and dangers of the algorithm, it certainly has its value. It saves us a lot of time, for example for finding what it is that we want. The Netflix algorithm is tremendous, in this regard. Instead of the old way of flipping through every cable channel you have, the algorithm serves you with content it thinks you’ll like based on what you’ve already watched. It’s really, really good at that.
But it narrows your scope. There’s this great video by The Verge where they visited the last Blockbuster Video in America. It’s located in the small town of Bend, Oregon. Yes, there’s still a Blockbuster Video.
In effect, what they’ve done is humanize the algorithm. The staff there know their regular customers by name. They know their tastes and preferences, so they know what to recommend them. And the customers respect these recommendations, because they know the people who work at this video store really know their movies. They trust these recommendations far more than what an algorithm would be able to provide, just like how Elaine trusted Vincent’s picks over Gene’s.
This isn’t restricted purely to in-person encounters and relationships either. Think about the viral, clickbait titles that you encounter all the time. You’ll see lists like the “top 10 best romantic comedies of the 1990s” or similar. You click, because you’re interested, even though you could have just went into your Netflix queue and looked under romantic comedies. You want a real, human opinion. That’s human curation.
I Just Want to Read
Here’s another great example. When I co-authored Make Money Online: Roadmap of a Dot Com Mogul with John back in 2010, the book was based on an e-book that John already had, which in turn was based on some of the content that he already had up on the blog. The blog is free to read. The e-book was a free download. Why, then, would someone want to buy a copy of the book? Because the value of human curation is there.
We took the most important, most poignant, most useful parts that all related to the single unifying purpose of the book, and bundled them all together in one convenient package. Most people don’t want to scour through the thousands of posts on this blog to find the relevant morsels. The book does that for that. Beyond the Margins, my guide on starting your own freelance business, started out with much the same kind of inspiration. I curated existing blog posts, expanded on them and added more value, and packaged it up into a new book.
Newsflash: People Are Lazy
They really are. They want you to do the work for them and, under the right circumstances, they’re willing to pay you for it. They value your opinion, if your opinion is worth valuing, and that’s why there will always be a place for human curation.
Dare to be your own algorithm. And then share your personal gift and perspective with anyone who cares to listen.