Trends Reflection: Online reader’s advisory/ user-generated recommendations

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    • #1307
      Ruth McConchie

      There are a couple of issues around the current trends in online reader’s advisory services such as Amazon’s algorithm-generated book recommendations and user-generated review platforms such as GoodReads and LibraryThing, that I would like to explore. Firstly as Eric Hoffer states in Chen when people are free to do they please, they usually imitate each other which as Chen describes can lead to the creation of herd behaviour. This homogenization of culture has the potential to impede personal growth through recommendations that reflect back or solidify previously held opinions, rather than expanding knowledge. Chen continues that this imitation behaviour can lead to informational cascades, which occur when individuals follow the previous behaviour of others and disregard their own information. In relation to online recommendations on book purchasers clearly prefer to receive guidance from those perceived to be similar to themselves. This insularity is supported in relation to GoodReads as Naik explains that often users of GoodReads “know” the reviewers whose work they post comments on.

      This leads into how power and social dynamics could be hidden in the spirit of collaborative online user-generated content. For example Stephen Colbert in Miller describes Microsoft’s actions to pay a consultant to enter favourable Wikipedia entries as …the essence of Wikilobbying. When money determines Wikipedia entries, reality has become a commodity. Another example is the power that big publishing houses have over independent publishers in terms of marketing and publicity could be exacerbated. Not to mention the institutional racism in the systemic White domination of people of colour, embedded and operating in corporations…. As de Laat demonstrates in communities of user-generated content, systems for the management of content and/ or their contributors are usually accepted without much protest. In the future, the voices of dissent could be silenced at arms-lengths by algorithms or marginalised through the omission on user-generated platforms. As Matthews explains sites want their users to feel like it’s “their” space, to build up and maintain a community to which they have the freedom to express themselves and can contribute to the shaping of its environment. Still freedom is within the TOS [Terms of Service] and moderator choices….

      The direct interaction of librarians in online user-generated readers advisory is crucial to take advantage of a web nation of feral readers’ advisors… who in turn will inform their friends and colleagues of good books to read using the language we’ve provided in our tags, book shelves, reviews and annotations.Creating a LibraryThing and GoodReads account for the library, connecting to patrons online and building a reputation as a good source of information is fundamental to the library keeping up with this trend and remaining relevant. Similarly Bates and Rowley argue for the integration of LibraryThing’s folksonomy into the library catalogue to improve the discoverability and subject representation of LGBTQ and “ethnic” minorities.  Applying folksonomies to the library catalogue will not only improve representation but it will allow users to move between the online environment and the library environment with greater familiarity and speed. In both these situations it is important to foster curiosity in and criticality towards information that is sometimes tacitly controlled, censored and creates situations which encourage herd behaviour.

    • #1329
      Kirsty Roberts

      Really great post, Ruth!

      I’ve noticed a lot of the behaviours you’ve noted in your reflection in my own experiences with these types of websites/platforms – there’s not a lot of opportunity or interest by users in expanding beyond what they know or are comfortable with. As you mention, a lot of these websites make recommendations based on algorithms and other similar tools and they lack any ability to make suggestions outside of a user’s comfort zone and I think the point you make about librarians getting involved with these tools is critical – they have both the ability and the training to extend on these services in a really positive, productive way that has not yet been fully realised.

    • #1436
      Will Wood

      I found your post to be very well researched and really thought provoking Ruth. It introduced me to some concepts that I was unfamiliar with like wiki-lobbying. Microsoft paid for positive entries?! Geez, did Bill know? I missed out on that whole saga completely. You’ve inspired me to go and do a bunch of reading and procrastinate instead of working on my essays. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that algorithms could be systemically marginalising minorities as I had never even considered that concept before.

      I am one of those people who doesn’t like to be approached by helpful staff when I am shopping and much prefer to serendipitous-ly stumble across interesting products and I like to think that I when I shop online I treat the suggestions of the algorithm with the same level of avoidance but if I end up buying a few things and others like me have bought the same then I am contributing to a formula that is seeking to remove those moments of happy chance and replace them with shoppers who all by the same things because Amazon told them they would like it. I don’t really like the sound of that.

      Thanks for the excellent post!

    • #1505
      Leena Riethmuller

      Thanks for your post, Ruth! SO much of what you are discussing here and things that I think about, especially when I am searching online. The knowledge that there are algorithms altering what I view compels me to searching harder and deeper for what I want. I go out of my way to find different perspectives. The book recommendations on sites like Amazon perplex me because often it’s just more of the same. The same could be said for the advertisements on Facebook, which (usually) only show me content related to what I already look for. While it is nice and comfortable to only look at stuff that is relevant to me and my personal values, I also think it’s really important to be confronted with alternative content in order to know what else is available, and who else is out there and what they are talking about. Maybe there could be some kind of “Wildcard” algorithm that sporadically throws randomised content into Facebook news feeds, online advertising etc.

      I often think about Facebook like being in a car. If you’re in a car you’re less likely to encounter unpredictable and un-asked-for situations. But, if you’re on a bus, or walking, or cycling, you’re more open and exposed to unmediated information coming in… I think about that a lot.

      Back to reader’s advisory… I think it is essential to continually develop folksonomies in libraries and online in order to promote content that would otherwise be marginalised.

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