Personalization has failed us

Spotify’s complicated algorithm struggles to push the boundaries of your own habits. Listen to a track from Nine Inch Nails and you’ll get more Nine Inch Nails on your algorithm-generated Discover Weekly playlist. Maybe it’ll toss in something similar sounding, but it’s just as likely to throw in a random pop song from the ’90s. If you go too off course and listen to a jazz playlist followed by some metal, the whole thing breaks down and you’re served up a nonsensical playlist for a week. Even in the best-case scenario, the experience is transactional, and without the thrill of self-discovery — part of the appeal of seeking out new media — the recommendations feel cold.

Movie streaming services often use the simple-seeming “people who watched this also watched” algorithm. These formulas are as likely to recommend something new as they are to solidify a stereotype. Netflix does this all the time, and as The Outline points out, it’s terrible at pushing you toward new movies. Most likely because of the feedback loop of movie availability, Netflix always seems to recommend Netflix-produced movies. Netflix at least provides a way to sort movies alphabetically by genre. If you’ve never dialed all the way down to the A-Z listings by genre in Netflix (or anywhere else), I highly recommend it. Almost every time, I find great movies the algorithms ignore.

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