09 December 2008

The very best of jorendorff?

I like Language Log, but I would like it even better if there were less of it.

Wouldn't it be keen if there were a site where you could enter the URL of any blog, and it would give you back a feed containing only half the entries—the best ones, according to whatever metric of popularity the service could find (links, diggs, whatever).

I proposed this on IRC, where mhoye and humph reacted with a definite meh. (Note: All these chat excerpts are edited to give the illusion that there's a single coherent conversation going on.)

<humph> what's popular and what's interesting to me are not often the same for me
<mhoye> humph++
<mhoye> That sounds like a good way to be drowning in mediocrity, for sure.
<mhoye> jorendorff: Apply your theory to popular music.
...
<ted> so your theory is that if you like a blog enough to subscribe, you would like it even more if you only got the absolute best posts?
<jorendorff> ted: my theory is that "absolute best posts" means something
<mhoye> God, no.
<mhoye> See also, "absolute best music", "absolute best paint color."

I failed several times at explaining why I think this. Let me try again here.

Simple ratings systems are common on the Web. Some, like the Slashdot comment ratings (“Score: 5, Insightful” and such) perform very well. Others, like online restaurant guides, are useless. Ratings work when users agree on what's good and what's bad. On Slashdot, the worst posts are pretty content-free. Subjective tastes don't even really enter into it. Restaurants are a different story. In the case of music, mhoye's example, I'm sure any two people can find plenty to disagree on. But:

<jorendorff> mhoye: do you have a favorite band?
<mhoye> Not just one!
<jorendorff> mhoye: I'm struggling to get you guys to engage on any specific example :(
<mhoye> Jorendorff: Ok, here. "Entertainment", by "Gang Of Four".
<jorendorff> mhoye: excellent - what are your favorite songs off that album?
* mhoye picks "I Found That Essence Rare" and "Anthrax"

Both of mhoye's picks are among what the Apple Store calls the “TOP SONGS” from that album. Both are mentioned in Apple's review. Maybe mhoye picked them because they're the best tracks on the album.

Counterexamples abound too. We could settle this scientifically by sampling a blog's audience, having those people rate posts for a while, and seeing how closely their ratings correlate.

Instead, let's play a silly game. See if you can stand to read these two entries from my old writing journal: Zen in space and the swoon. I believe one of those is about as good as I can write and the other is flat-out bad. I furthermore immodestly claim that those are two different things! And I think you might agree with me on which is which. We'll see (if you're willing) in the comments.

4 comments:

Benjamin Smedberg said...

"the swoon" was readable and poetic. I'm hoping that's the one you believed to be your best writing...

As for the thought of "subscribing to the most popular blog posts of person X"... this is a lot like what I wish digg or stumbleupon were: innocently finding stuff that's valuable/interesting to me using a social circle + network effect.

But as thse others have proven, it's really hard to get right.

Arnold Zwicky said...

One of the most irritating experiences I've had (repeatedly) on the web/net is getting mail from colleagues (some of them friends, a number of them famous) saying, "Let me know when you post something of interest to me."

Arnold Zwicky

Paritosh Aggarwal said...

The rating system for music has been implemented by a lyrics website letssingit.com. It might be in place at even more places.
Most times, the songs I like are usually rated worldwide, but songs by the same artist are not ranked in the order in which I would have ranked them.
In other cases, there are outright winners(some songs are liked by everyone), while some do not share such common opinion.
But these are mass voting techniques(kindof) and what you are suggesting is the goodness be known at the time of creation.
Well, doesn't that imply a formula to gauge how well a product is going to do and so on..?

jto said...

"In other cases, there are outright winners(some songs are liked by everyone), while some do not share such common opinion."

mhoye's theory fails to explain the former case, while mine fails to explain the latter.

"But these are mass voting techniques(kindof) and what you are suggesting is the goodness be known at the time of creation."

No, that's not what I meant. The "best of" feed would have to lag the source feed by enough time to observe the response (whether that's explicit ratings or something else).