Network ≠ community

Do ever-more-accurate computerized recommendation engines make culture more diverse or just more diverse-seeming? Do they bring people together or just seem to? As with most cool things once you think about them a bit more, it depends.


Recommender systems can increase the experience of diversity. By drawing attention to items individuals have not found by themselves, they can lead to new experiences. But individual diversity is different from overall diversity. Some systems can increase both individual and overall diversity. Other systems increase individual diversity but, at the same time, prompt consumers to be increasingly similar to each other. Their selections then come from an increasingly narrow range of items….


The word “community” is widely used in conjunction with recommender systems, but they do little to build communities. Their use is essentially an individual, isolated act. Groups and networks are as important in the creation and experience of culture as individuals. Recommender systems will play a role in how culture is experienced, but they are not necessarily a strong force pushing us either towards or away from a healthy culture.


Recommender systems only filter culture, in various ways; the point is to create environments in which culture can prosper.

from “Theses on Netflix,” by Tom Slee, Whimsley, 24 November 2008 :: thanks Koranteng

Originally published at

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