Is recommendation (engine) killing opinion (journalism)?

Pic: Screen-captured from Trip Advisor website

Pic: Screen-captured from Trip Advisor website

Among the hustle and bustle of the Big Data trend on the digital industry, recommendation engine seems to be the jack of all trades. Browsing through archives information and some algorithm action, recommendation engine is Internet’s attempt to get one step closer to human race: to know its master better, faster and stronger.

The level of intimacy and accuracy from recommendation engine are growing based on your interactivity with the system. The more you use the engine, the more it will understand you, your habit, your preferences even your choice of underwear model. It learns your character better, more than your lover does. This interactivity is spot on and daunting in the same time. Your gadget is learning stuff about you. That’s creepy.

Maybe it’s not as obvious as search engine, but recommendations exist more than we realise. You might notice it when using Amazon and the phrase “Customers who bought this also bought” or “You will also like” popped, or after finished watching a movie on Netflix, there will be a “Because you watched” row at the homepage, plus a box requesting a rating. Another example is the giant music streaming service Spotify or Rdio will offer you “Related Artists” page when you open an artist page. These are all recommendations, algorithm reading your habit of consumption on the Internet and offering you to involved more and more.

However, humans are still the first to engage. The “cold start” discussion in the big data culture argues that it is impossible for recommendation engine to analyse our pattern if the data is not sufficient, meaning the size of information is small or the user doesn’t interact with the system often.

What is this to do with journalism? Predictably, when personal judgement and in-depth analysis are replaced with an algorithm, everything has become simpler, especially for the user. In other words, people don’t have to listen to what journalist think about certain thing anymore. When was the last time a review article from a music journalist affect your judgement towards an album? People will still read reviews for the sake of the conversation, but it will not affect their personal views towards things. People don’t care about what journalists think, anymore.

Pic: Screen-captured from Netflix

Pic: Screen-captured from Netflix

The privilege in the opinion world has expanded not only in the hands of journalists, but also by people. The true definition of people’s voice. In his revealing essay about digital journalism – Fungible, journalist Stijn Debrouwere bravely said “people don’t value journalism as much as journalists do.” Opinion from journalists are still fruitful for debates-level or to fuel continuous argument, but certainly not for mass consumption. Reviews from journalists are simply not practical. For instance, the quintessence of Pitchfork reviews is telling people how snob the writer is, rather than the truth. People need more content, less bullshit.

Today media outlets have honed their content carefully, whether it’s time-killer like Buzzfeed or long-formesque Snowfall style. Every publication in the world is reporting the same shit, and all left on the table is the quality of reporting, the delivery and the connectivity. But be honest with me, who do you trust more today: hundreds – even thousands – user comments on Trip Advisor about a destination or some cigar-smoking douche with khaki pants and fake tan writing for Conde Nast Travel? You decide. Some opinion writings are so hard to digest: they are sugar coated with pimped words, smart and so called witty writing, and the message becomes vaguely delivered.

Sometimes it is such a redemption to read user review that goes like, “Bathroom stinks, but nice bacon.” A powerful, honest and unseasoned one-liner.

While people give less and less fuck about what journalists said, the recommendation engine has spread in many fields. The newest and arguably the most vital so far is Picwell, which gives your recommendation of what kind of health plan according to individual needs. The system offers more than 900,000 variables and gives recommendations based on your personal records, preferences and of course, budget. Another that already operating and very practical is Waze, which displays user generated content from traffic and gives you best recommendation of which way you should take. In the music industry, there are no doubts for Spotify or Songkick, but new service called Jukely is basically not only giving you recommendations of artists, but also list of people who are interested with the artist within your area. This means new gig buddy, as fast as Tinder.

In the end, everybody wants to be understood, including by their own computer.

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