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Algorithmic recommendations create “curiosity ruts”

Replied to What Worked in 2022: 4 Insights From A Rebuilding Year by Tara McMullinTara McMullin (explorewhatworks.com)

One of his strategic priorities for this year was breaking out of what he calls curiosity ruts. Algorithms typically carve out curiosity ruts—that’s what happens when a platform learns your preferences and gives you what you want to see. In the process, we forget to look for information or ideas that aren’t automagically fed to us.

“What are the tools and systems that you can put into place to find information that you wouldn’t have found? The ideas, perspectives, people, etc., that you wouldn’t have found if you had just been left to your own curiosity ruts?” — Sean McMullin

Create information systems of serendipity — follow sources that are likely to introduce you to the unexpected.

Computers don’t have, can’t have, taste. That’s why there will always be a place for curators like Jason Kottke and tastemakers who create playlists of new musicians. An algorithm can be pretty good at recommending more stuff like we already like, but to make a sizable jump in what we’re listening to or reading, we turn to people we trust to have good taste (similar to our own 😉). Interesting people probably read and watch interesting things.

I’ve always treated social media this way, following people who boost others and share interesting things they’ve encountered. I don’t know how the algorithm worked on top of that, but one of the things I appreciated about Twitter was finding someone new to follow or hearing about a new project or learning something random about history or science or a field totally outside my realm of knowledge, every time I logged on. I saw someone talking about Twitter / this aspect of social media as a delivery system of delight: for me, this is the dopamine hit. As much as it sometimes annoyed me to see posts that “people you follow liked” it was probably a decent way to inject some freshness into people’s feeds in addition to RTs and QTs (they just overdid it IMO).

Over the past ~ six+ weeks since Twitter went to shit, I started following a handful of folks who migrated to Mastodon using the Activity Pub connection from Micro.blog — and through them have found some other interesting people to follow. For my interests, authors, artists and academics are my key to discovery.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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