TECH: Filtering, push, and serendipity

Alexander Chislenko (
Sun, 16 Mar 1997 18:45:05 -0500

At 12:31 AM 3/15/97 -0500, Johnny Carwash wrote:
>What push media also creates is an end to serendipity. We won't be able just
>to happen upon something. Furthermore, just learning for the sake of
>learning cannot exist in a push based system. I think you're confusing
>intelligent agents, which are a tool, with push media, which is a medium.
>It's like saying that your remote control is the same as tv programming. TV
>is the medium, your remote is the tool.

"The end of serendipity" is the argument that I hear most often against
automated collaborative filtering and other agent technologies.
The "push" part here won't be that different - in the end, readers, writers
and recommenders will all put their suggestions forward, and the final
will depend on the combination of all these filters.

My usual arguments for the serendipity issue in filtering systems:

1. Ability to effectively choose among options is what constitutes the
between intelligence and lack of it. So far, more intelligence usually
has been useful.

2. Serendipity may be the best tool for finding occasional gems *in the
of better mechanisms for finding these gems. With much better mechanisms,
there won't be much use left for serendipity.

3. The same argument could have been suggested when people invented trains
and cars.
"You can't wander around if you are on a road, and accidentally bump into
nice people".
Sure. If you want to wander, walk on foot. Any technology is an
instrument that has
limits of applicability. Use it when you need it. Nobody takes your
other tools away.

4. Filtering, etc. can be used to *increase* serendipity. Citing my own

" The ACF methods should not necessarily be based on the straightforward
of people's interests. One group of people can be interested in materials
that another
group considers offensive or controversial; educators would pay special
attention to
things that students find too difficult or boring; researchers may be
interested in problems
that have puzzled their colleagues or have not received sufficient
attention; social scientists
and market analysts would study subjects experiencing rapid changes in
levels of public
interest or shifts of opinions; reviewers would look for new or unknown
material in
promising areas; fashion watchers may pay attention to things rising in
popularity. "

In other words, pushing and pulling agents can specify any criteria you
want, including
randomness, and get it.

Alexander Chislenko <>
ACF theory paper: <>