An extensive and fascinating snapshot of collaborative filtering
In one sense, collaborative filtering is less personalized than a store clerk. The clerk, in theory anyway, knows a lot about you, like your age and profession and what sort of things you enjoy; she can even read your current mood. (Are you feeling lousy? Maybe it’s not the day for “Apocalypse Now.”) A collaborative-filtering program, in contrast, knows very little about you — only what you’ve bought at a Web site and whether you rated it highly or not. But the computer has numbers on its side. It may know only a little bit about you, but it also knows a little bit about a huge number of other people. This lets it detect patterns we often cannot see on our own. For example, Maes’s music-recommendation system discovered that people who like classical music also like the Beatles. It is an epiphany that perhaps make sense when you think about it for a second, but it isn’t immediately obvious.