Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker about how Netflix uses a ~70/30 combination of data and human judgment to determine their recommendations and what shows/movies to make.
Over the years, however, I've started to wonder whether Netflix's big decisions are truly as data driven as they are purported to be. The company does have more audience data than nearly anyone else (with the possible exception of YouTube), so it has a reason to emphasize its comparative advantage. But, when I was reporting a story, a couple of years ago, about Netflix's embrace of fandom over mass culture, I began to sense that their biggest bets always seemed ultimately driven by faith in a particular cult creator, like David Fincher ("House of Cards"), Jenji Leslie Kohan ("Orange is the New Black"), Ricky Gervais ("Derek"), John Fusco ("Marco Polo"), or Mitchell Hurwitz ("Arrested Development"). And, while Netflix does not release its viewership numbers, some of the company's programming, like "Marco Polo," hasn't seemed to generate the same audience excitement as, say, "House of Cards." In short, I do think that there is a sophisticated algorithm at work here -- but I think his name is Ted Sarandos.
I presented Sarandos with this theory at a Sundance panel called "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Algorithm," moderated by Jason Hirschhorn, formerly of MySpace. Sarandos, very agreeably, wobbled a bit. "It is important to know which data to ignore," he conceded, before saying, at the end, "In practice, its probably a seventy-thirty mix." But which is the seventy and which is the thirty? "Seventy is the data, and thirty is judgment," he told me later. Then he paused, and said, "But the thirty needs to be on top, if that makes sense."
This reminds me of the situation in chess, where cyborg human/computer teams can beat computer- or human-only players in chess, although perhaps for not much longer.
Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of "freestyle chess," where humans can use any and all tools available -- most of all computers and computer programs -- to play the best chess game possible. The book also notes that "man plus computer" is a stronger player than "computer alone," at least provided the human knows what he is doing. You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs. Ken's explanations are a bit dense for those who don't already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation. In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.
I wonder what the human/cyborg split is at Buzzfeed or Facebook? Or at food companies like McDonald's or Kraft? Or at Goldman Sachs?
Today, President Obama came out strongly for net neutrality and asked for the FCC's help in implementing his plan.
More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here's a big reason we've seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That's a principle known as "net neutrality" -- and it says that an entrepreneur's fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student's blog shouldn't be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.
That's what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.
Tim Wu, who coined the term "net neutrality", reacted positively to the President's statement.
With another compromise looming, the President today released a video that suggests, in short, that he's had it. In unusually explicit terms, he has told the agency exactly what it should do. Enough with the preëmptive compromises, the efforts to appease the carriers, and other forms of wiggle and wobble. Instead, the President said, enact a clear, bright-line ban on slow lanes, and fire up the agency's strongest legal authority, Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the "main guns" of the battleship F.C.C.
Motherboard notes that the classification of the internet as a utility would not include rate regulations.
To do this, Obama said the FCC should reclassify internet services as a utility, but should do it in a way that has slightly different rules than say, an electric company. Obama's suggested rules focus specifically on net neutrality and service interruption, not prices, a concession to big telecom companies.
"I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services," he said.
In a series of tweets, historian Yoni Appelbaum connects the dots between net neutrality and the Affordable Care Act a bit more elegantly than Ted Cruz did:
Obama's call for net neutrality his latest effort to grow the economy by defending equality of opportunity. The ACA is the biggest boon for entrepreneurs in generations, allowing individuals to take economic risks without risking their health. The common thread here is a policy framework giving individuals the same access to essential resources as enormous institutions. Obama prefers to stress commonalities than to define his policies in such oppositional terms. But still, that's what he's doing here.
This makes me think of Tom Junod's piece on increased access passes at a water park, The Water-Park Scandal and the Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, Or Are We the Line?
It wouldn't be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn't. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it's not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It's that your experience -- what you've paid full price for -- has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park. You used to pay for equal access; now you have to pay for access that's more equal than the access afforded others. The commonality of experience is lost, and the lines are striated not simply by who can pay for a Flash Pass and who can't; they're also striated by race and class. The people sporting the Flash Passes are almost exclusively white, and they tend to be in better shape than those stuck on line. They tend to have fewer tattoos, and to look less, well, pagan. And by the end of the day, they start cutting lines where Flash Passes don't even apply -- because they feel entitled to -- and none of them, not even their kids, will so much as look at you.
I think 2008 and 2012 Obama voters are nodding their heads here at Appelbaum's and Junod's thoughts...Obama's statement on net neutrality and the rationale behind it is what they voted for. If you watched any of Ken Burns' The Roosevelts on PBS, you'll recognize this is right out of TR's and FDR's playbooks. Worth noting also that Teddy was a Republican and FDR a Democrat.
According to several sources, the FCC is set to propose new net neutrality rules "that would allow broadband providers to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest lanes." That's decent news for deep-pocketed companies that can pay for faster connectivity and even better news for broadband providers that can charge more for a speedier service. It's bad news for everyone else. Faster service for some means slower service for others. Many of today's big internet companies got that way because they had access to a level playing field. The Internet let the little guy become the big guy. And now the big guy wants to have an unfair advantage with faster pipes. The hell with that.
Ryan Singel: The FCC plans to save the Internet by destroying it.
Tim Wu in The New Yorker: "It threatens to make the Internet just like everything else in American society: unequal in a way that deeply threatens our long-term prosperity."