The People Behind the Algorithm

You know those “you bought this, so you might like this” recommendations on Amazon? Turns out, a real live human helps ensure the recommendations you see aren’t too out of whack.

They log in to the Amazon Mechanical Turk site and are presented with two products. If one doesn’t belong with the other, they say so. For every match they identify, they make a few pennies. There’s still an algorithm, but it’s receiving crucial help from an army of low-paid workers.

NPR’s Planet Money team thought of a clever way to interview some Turks. Check it out here.

A Bot That Buys You Random Stuff from Amazon

If your name is Darius Kazemi, that is.

Darius’s bot picks a random word, searches for that word on amazon, and then purchases items from the results list, in order, until the bot hits a pre-determined budget.

From his site:

I’ve had an idea for a long time now. It’s inspired by one of my favorite feelings: when you order something on Amazon, and it’s put on backorder, and then you forget you ordered it, and a year later it arrives—and it’s like a gift you bought yourself.

Well, I thought: what if I just wrote a program to buy stuff for me? The first iteration of this was going to be a program that bought me stuff that I probably would like.

But then I decided that was too boring. How about I build something that buys me things completely at random? Something that just… fills my life with crap? How would these purchases make me feel? Would they actually be any less meaningful than the crap I buy myself on a regular basis anyway?

His first shipment recently arrived, and the objects are just as fascinating as his commentary. Check out his tumblr for more: Random Shopper {via andrew sullivan, of course}.

It would be cool to use this bot to send completely random stuff to random ex-girlfriends or something.

If This Then That

ifttt is a neat customizable service that automates social media/web tasks for you. You can either choose from a list of channels, or start with a recipe made by other users.

I’m thinking about ways to use ifttt for interactive, constantly evolving fiction,  but for now here are some of the practical ideas for it:

  • when tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain > send me a text
  • take every flickr photo I upload > upload it to Facebook
  • when I star an item in google reader > send a tweet about it
  • on new years day > tweet “happy new year”
  • call me at 6 for a wakeup call
  • email me when a studio under $500 is posted to craigslist