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People who read that article also read something completely different

I started using Google back in the last century. I have emails stored in my Gmail account going back to 2004. I'm a middle-aged, Guardian reading leftie. It would take you about two minutes to work this out (less if you've managed to read these first three sentences at a reasonable pace). My Google Play account consists mostly of Autechre, Squarepusher and 65daysofstatic, so it's with a vague sense of disappointment that my Google Plus suggestions look like this:

Smooth fucking radio - no really?

Yep - that's right. Smooth Radio, Britney Spears (Britney Spears!) and Robbie.

It's not just a one off either; the next lot of suggestions I got looked like this:

I'd rather eat someone elses ear wax than watch Top Gear.

Women's Prize for Fiction, slightly odd but OK, Star Wars isn't perhaps the most up to the minute suggestion but at least I've seen it. Top Gear though? Were all those views of Stewart Lee on YouTube not being tracked?

I appreciate that some of those suggestions are going to be paid for advertisments, and it would be a bit pointless just to recommend things I already know and like, but recommending things that are so far off is almost insulting.

Google isn't the only one who struggles though. Let's take a look at my Facebook suggestions:

Facebook makes a couple of sensible suggestions,

I'd been to Modern Art Oxford and logged onto their wifi a week or so before this so that's a slightly creepy but sensible suggestion, and I like (alright then, used to like) the Residents so we're off to a pretty good start. Unfortunately it doesn't last long. My next set of suggestions were:

The Sun and Emmerdale.

The only time I've been involved with the Sun is supporting the strikers at Wapping, I'm really not the target market for Nivea and L'Oreal and as for Emmerdale and This Morning well I don't even have a television (self deprecating aside: How do you know when someone hasn't got a television?.... They'll tell you.)

Even Eventbrite aren't really on the ball:

Tech SuperWomen Austin

I'm a man. I live near Slough. Even my mother probably wouldn't go so far to call me super.

And as for the BBC - I'm not entirely convinced that listeners to the Freak Zone are really going to goting to enjoy Paul O'Grady on Radio 2 are they?

These two are similar in so many ways and yet....


Making automatic recommendations is hard. We built a website for a client a while back that tried to match related articles automatically. Most of the time it worked ok but every now and again it would throw up a Britney Spears and link to a complete unsuitable article. After spending far too long tweaking and fine tuning we found that by far the best way to link to related items was to get the author of the article to pick what other articles to link to. Perhaps not a solution for Google but at least it avoided suggesting Top Gear.

Then again, maybe Google know me better than I do. Maybe I'm fooling no one but myself and only listen to scratchy electronica to look cool. I should give Robbie a chance. I'm off to listen to Paul O'Grady.

Jul 13, 2013