Discovery engines

?

Image: Getting discovery engines to work is an uphill struggle…

Discovery engines are, as Farhad Manjoo for Fastcompany has it…

the word du jour in tech

Or…

the search engine’s smart-ass cousin that tries to answer vague queries (like “funny video”–one of the top searches on YouTube).

…the discovery engine remains a mythical beast. Today’s personalization tools are built on several faulty premises. There’s still too much presuming that we want a steady diet of what we just consumed. Just because you clicked on one post of Sarah Palin reinterpreting history doesn’t mean you want to hear all she has to say.

Another is that we’re interested in everything that our friends are. (I like my friends despite their inexplicable devotion to Mad Men.)

You’ll never know exactly what people want, because they often don’t know themselves. If they knew – they’d ask for it…

You can be in the right area, be luckier (serendipitous sounds posher) at serving the right content, make them luckier at finding it, but personalisation is nowhere near as much an exact science as algorithm-obsessed engineers think it might be.

Too many variables. Too many people. Too many variable people.

But the alchemical pursuit of the magical what-people-want formula will continue. Farhad quotes the Washington Post’s chief digital officer:

“It’s sort of like drilling for oil,” he says. “The oil companies don’t exactly know where it is, but they’re always going to be drilling because the value of finding that oil is so high.”