by    in Data Science, Popular Lists, Rankings

In Good Company: Varieties of Women we would like to Drink With

They say you’re defined by the company you keep.  But how are you defined by the company you want to keep?

The list “Famous Women You’d Want to Have a Beer With”  provides an interesting way to examine this idea.  In other words, how people vote on this list can define something about what kind of person is doing the voting.

We can think of people as having many traits, or dimensions.  The traits and dimensions that are most important to the voters will be given higher rankings.  For instance, some people may rank the list thinking about the trait of how funny the person is, so may be more inclined to rate comedians higher than drama actresses.  Others may vote just on attractiveness, or based on singing talent, etc…  It may be the case that some people rank comedians and singers in a certain way, whereas others would only spend time with models and actresses.  By examining how people rank the various celebrities along these dimensions, we can learn something about the people doing the voting.

The rankings on the site, however, are based on the sum of all of the voters’ behavior on the list, so the final rankings do not tell us about how certain types of people are voting on the list.  While we could manually go through the list to sort the celebrities according to their traits, i.e. put comedians with comedians, singers with singers,  we would risk using our own biases to put voters into categories where they do not naturally belong.  It would be much better to let the voter’s own voting decide how the celebrities should be clustered.  To do this, we can use some fancy-math techniques from machine learning, called clustering algorithms, to let a computer examine the voting patterns and then tell us which patterns are similar between all the voters.   In other words, we use the algorithm to find patterns in the voting data, to then put similar patterns together into groups of voters, and then examine how the different groups of voters ranked the celebrities.  How each group ranked the celebrities tells us something about the group, and about the type of people they would like to keep them company.

As it happens, using this approach actually finds unique clusters, or groups, in the voting data, and we can then guess for ourselves how the voters from each group can be defined based on the company they wish to keep.

Here are the results:

Cluster 1:

Cluster4_MakeCelebPanels

Cluster 1 includes females known to be funny, and includes established comedians like Carol Burnett and Ellen DeGeneres. What is interesting is that Emma Stone and Jennifer Lawrence are also included, who are also highly ranked on lists based on physical attractiveness, they also have a reputation for being funny.  The clustering algorithm is showing us that they are often categorized alongside other funny females as well.  Among the clusters, this cluster has the highest proportion of female voters, which may explain why the celebrities are ranked along dimensions other than attractiveness.

 

Cluster 2:

Cluster1_MakeCelebPanels

Cluster 2 appears to consist of celebrities that are more in the nerdy camp, with Yvonne Strahovski and Morena Baccarin, both of whom play roles on shows popular with science fiction fans.  In the bottom of this list we see something of a contrarian streak as well, with downvotes handed out to some of the best known celebrities who rank highly on the list overall.

Cluster 3:

Cluster2_MakeCelebPanels

Cluster 3 is a bit more of a puzzle.  The celebrities tend to be a bit older, and come from a wide variety of backgrounds that are less known for a single role or attribute.  This cluster could be basing their votes more on the celebrity’s degree of uniqueness, which is somewhat in contrast with the bottom ranked celebrities who represent the most common and regularly listed female celebrities on Ranker.

Cluster 4:

Cluster3_MakeCelebPanels

We would also expect a list such as this to be heavily correlated with physical attractiveness, or perhaps for the celebrity’s role as a model.  Cluster 4 is perhaps the best example of this, and likely represents our youngest cluster.  The top ranked women are from the entertainment sector and are known for their looks, whereas in the bottom ranked people are from politics, comedy, or are older and probably less well known to the younger voters.  As we might expect, cluster 3 also has a high proportion of younger voters.

Here is the list of the top and bottom ten for each cluster (note that the order within these lists is not particularly important since the celebrity’s scores will be very close to one another):

TopCelebsPerClusterTable

 

In the end, the adage that we are defined by the company we keep appears to have some merit–and can be detected with machine learning approaches.  Though not a perfect split among the groups, there were trends in each group that drew the people of the cluster together.  This approach can provide a useful tool as we improve the site and improve the content for our visitors.   We are using these approaches to help improve the site and to provide better content to our visitors.

 

–Glenn R. Fox, PhD

 

 

A Ranker Opinion Graph of the Domains of the World of Comedy

One unique aspect of Ranker data is that people rank a wide variety of lists, allowing us to look at connections beyond the scope of any individual topic.  We compiled data from all of the lists on Ranker with the word “funny” to get a bigger picture of the interconnected world of comedy.  Using Gephi layout algorithms, we were able to create an Opinion Graph which categorizes comedy domains and identify points of intersection between them (click to make larger).

all3sm

In the following graphs, colors indicate different comedic categories that emerged from a cluster analysis, and the connecting lines indicate correlations between different nodes with thicker lines indicating stronger relationships.  Circles (or nodes) that are closest together are most similar.  The classification algorithm produced 7 comedy domains:

 

CurrentTVwAmerican TV Shows and Characters: 26% of comedy, central nodes =  It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, ALF, The Daily Show, Chappelle’s Show, and Friends.

NowComedianwContemporary Comedians on American Television: 25% of nodes, includes Dave Chappelle, Eddie Izzard, Ricky Gervais, Billy Connolly, and Bill Hicks.

 

ClassicComedianswClassic Comedians: 15% of comedy, central nodes = John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Charlie Chaplin, and George Carlin.

ClassicTVClassic TV Shows and Characters: 14% of comedy, central nodes = The Muppet Show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, In Living Color, WKRP in Cincinnati, and The Carol Burnett Show.

BritComwBritish Comedians: 9% of comedy, central nodes = Rowan Atkinson, Jennifer Saunders, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Dawn French.

AnimwAnimated TV Shows and Characters: 9% of comedy, central nodes = South Park, Family Guy, Futurama, The Simpsons, and Moe Szyslak.

MovieswClassic Comedy Movies: 1.5% of comedy, central nodes = National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Ghostbusters, Airplane!, Vacation, and Caddyshack.

 

 

Clusters that are the most similar (most overlap/closest together):

  • Classic TV Shows and Contemporary TV Shows
  • British Comedians and Classic TV shows
  • British Comedians and Contemporary Comedians on American Television
  • Animated TV Shows and Contemporary TV Shows

Clusters that are the most distinct (lest overlap/furthest apart):

  • Classic Comedy Movies do not overlap with any other comedy domains
  • Animated TV Shows and British Comedians
  • Contemporary Comedians on American Television and Classic TV Shows

 

Take a look at our follow-up post on the individuals who connect the comedic universe.

– Kate Johnson

 

by    in Data Science, prediction, Rankings

Cognitive Models for the Intelligent Aggregation of Lists

Ranker is constantly working to improve our crowdsourced list algorithms, in order to surface the best possible answers to the questions on our site.  As part of this effort, we work with leading academics who research the “wisdom of crowds”, and below is a poster we recently presented at the annual meeting for the Association for Psychological Science (led by Ravi Selker at the University of Amsterdam and in collaboration with Michael Lee from the University of California-Irvine).

While the math behind the aggregation model may be complex (a paper describing it in detail will hopefully be published shortly), the principle being demonstrated is relatively simple.  Specifically, aggregating lists using models that take into account the inferred expertise of the list maker outperform simple averages, when compared to real-world ground truths (e.g. box office revenue).  While Ranker’s algorithms for determining our crowdsourced rankings may be similarly complex, they are similarly designed to produce the best answers possible.

 

cognitive_model_aggregating_lists

 

– Ravi Iyer

by    in Opinion Graph, Rankings

Characteristics of People who are less Afraid of Ebola

Ebola is everywhere in the news these days, even as Ebola trails other causes of death by wide margins.  Clearly the risks are great, so some amount of fear is certainly justified, but many have taken it to levels that do not make sense scientifically, making back of the envelope projections for its spread based on anecdotal evidence and/or positing that its only a matter of time before the virus evolves into an airborne disease, as diseases regularly mutate to enable more killing in movies.  Regardless of whether Ebola warrants fear or outright panic, the consensus is that it is scary, as also evidenced by its clear #1 ranking on Ranker‘s Scariest Diseases of All Time list.  Yet, among those who are fearful, I couldn’t help but wonder, what are the characteristics of people who tend to be less afraid than others?  Using the metadata associated with users who voted and reranked this list, in combination with their other activity on the site, here are a few things I found.

– Ebola fear appears to be slightly less prevalent in the Northeast, as compared to other regions of the US, and slightly more prevalent in the South.

– Older people tend to be slightly less afraid of Ebola, often expressing more fear of Alzheimer’s.

– International visitors to this list are half as likely to vote for Ebola, as compared to Americans.

– People who are afraid of Ebola are 4.4x as likely to be afraid of Dengue Fever.

– People who are afraid of Strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Distrophy, Influenza, and/or Depression are about half as likely to believe that Ebola is one of the world’s scariest diseases.

Bear in mind that these results are based on degree of fear and ALL people are afraid of Ebola.  The fear in some groups is simply less pronounced and only the last 3 results are statistically significant based on classical statistical methods.  There are plausible explanations for all of the above, ranging from the fact that conservative areas of the country are likely more responsive to potential threats, to the fact that losing one’s mind over time to Alzheimer’s really may be much scarier for older people versus a quick death, to the fact that people who are afraid of foreign diseases prevalent in tropical areas likely fear other foreign diseases prevalent in tropical areas.

To me the most interesting fact is that people who are afraid of more common everyday diseases, including Influenza, which kills thousands every year, appear to be less afraid of Ebola than others.  Human beings are wired to be more afraid of the new and spectacular, as much psychological research has shown.  That fear kept many of our ancestors alive, so I wouldn’t dismiss it as wrong.  But it is interesting to observe that perhaps some of us are less wired in this way than others.

– Ravi Iyer

by    in Opinion Graph, Rankings

Ranky Goes to Washington?

Something pretty cool happened last week here at Ranker, and it had nothing to do with the season premiere of the “Big Bang Theory”, which we’re also really excited about. Cincinnati’s number one digital paper used our widget to create a votable list of ideas mentioned in Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley’s first State of the City. As of right now, 1,958 voters cast 5,586 votes on the list of proposals from Mayor Cranley (not surprisingly, “fixing streets” ranks higher than the “German-style beer garden” that’s apparently also an option).

Now, our widget is used by thousands of websites to either take one of our votable lists or create their own and embed it on their site, but this was the very first time Ranker was used to directly poll people on public policy initiatives.

Here’s why we’re loving this idea: we feel confident that Ranker lists are the most fun and reliable way to poll people at scale about a list of items within a specific context. That’s what we’ve been obsessing about for the past 6 years. But we also think this could lead to a whole new way for people to weigh in in fairly  large numbers on complex public policy issues on an ongoing basis, from municipal budgets to foreign policy. That’s because Ranker is very good at getting a large number of people to cast their opinion about complex issues in ways that can’t be achieved at this scale through regular polling methods (nobody’s going to call you at dinner time to ask you to rank 10 or 20 municipal budget items … and what is “dinner time” these days, anyway?).  It may not be a representative sample, but it may be the only sample that matters, given that the average citizen of Cincinnati will have no idea about the details within the Mayor’s speech and likely will give any opinion simply to move a phone survey conversation along about a topic they know little about.

Of course, the democratic process is the best way to get the best sample (there’s little bias when it’s the whole friggin voting population!) to weigh in on public policy as a whole. But elections are very expensive, infrequent, and the focus of their policy debates is the broadest possible relative to their geographical units, meaning that micro-issues like these will often get lost in same the tired partisan debates.

Meanwhile, society, technology, and the economy no longer operate on cycles consistent with elections cycles: the rate and breadth of societal change is such that the public policy environment specific to an election quickly becomes obsolete, and new issues quickly need sorting out as they emerge, something our increasingly polarized legislative processes have a hard time doing.

Online polls are an imperfect, but necessary, way to evaluate public policy choices on an ongoing basis. Yes, they are susceptible to bias, but good statistical models can overcome a lot of such bias and in a world where the response rates for telephone polls continue to drop, there simply isn’t an alternative.  All polling is becoming a function of statistical modeling applied to imperfect datasets.  Offline polls are also expensive, and that cost is climbing as rapidly as response rates are dropping. A poll with a sample size of 800 can cost anywhere between $25,000 and $50,000 depending on the type of sample and the response rate.  Social media is, well, very approximate. As we’ve covered elsewhere in this blog, social media sentiment is noisy, biased, and overall very difficult to measure accurately.

In comes Ranker. The cost of that Cincinnati.com Ranker widget? $0. Its sample size? Nearly 2,000 people, or anywhere between 2 to 4x the average sample size of current political polls. Ranker is also the best way to get people to quickly and efficiently express a meaningful opinion about a complex set of issues, and we have collected thousands of precise opinions about conceptually complex topics like the scariest diseases and the most important life goals by making providing opinions entertaining within a context that makes simple actions meaningful.

Politics is the art of the possible, and we shouldn’t let the impossibility of perfect survey precision preclude the possibility of using technology to improve civic engagement at scale.  If you are an organization seeking to poll public opinion about a particular set of issues that may work well in a list format, we’d invite you to contact us.

– Ravi Iyer

Can Colbert bring young Breaking Bad Fans to The Late Show?

I have to admit that I thought it was a joke at first when I heard the news that Stephen Colbert is leaving The Colbert Report and is going to host the Late Show, currently hosted by David Letterman.  The fact that he won’t be “in character” in the new show makes it more intriguing, even as it brings tremendous change to my entertainment universe.  However, while it will take some getting used to, looking at Ranker data on the two shows reveals how the change really does make sense for CBS.

Despite the ire of those who disagree with The Colbert Report’s politics, CBS is definitely addressing a need to compete better for younger viewers, who are less likely to watch TV on the major networks.  Ranker users tend to be in the 18-35 year old age bracket and The Colbert Report ranks higher than the Late Show on most every list that they both are on including the Funniest TV shows of 2012 (19 vs. 28), Best TV Shows of All-Time (186 vs. 197), and Best TV Shows of Recent Memory (37 vs. 166).  Further, people who tend to like The Colbert Report also seem to like many of the most popular shows around like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, and 30 Rock.  In contrast, correlates of the Late Show include older shows like The Sopranos and 60 Minutes.  There is some overlap as fans of both shows like The West Wing and The Daily Show, indicating that Colbert may be able to appeal to current fans as well as new audiences.

Colbert Can Expand Late Show's Audience to New Groups, yet Retain Many Current Fans.

I’ll be sad to see “Stephen Colbert” the character go.  But it looks like my loss is CBS’ gain.

– Ravi Iyer

by    in Data Science, prediction, Rankings

World Cup 2014 Predictions

An octopus called Paul was one of the media stars of the 2010 soccer world cup. Paul correctly predicted 11 out of 13 matches, including the final in which Spain defeated the Netherlands. The 2014 world cup is in Brazil and, in an attempt to avoid eating mussels painted with national flags, we made predictions by analyzing data from Ranker’s “Who Will Win The 2014 World Cup?” list.

Ranker lists provide two sources of information, and we used both to make our predictions. One source is the original ranking, and the re-ranks provided by other users. For the world cup list, some users were very thorough, ranking all (or nearly all) of the 32 teams who qualified for the world cup. Other users were more selective, listing just the teams they thought would finish in the top places. An interesting question for data analysis is how much weight should be given to different rankings, depending on how complete they are.

The second source of information on Ranker are the thumbs-up and thumbs-down votes other users make in response to the master list of rankings. Often ranker lists have many more votes than they have re-ranks, and so the voting data potentially are very valuable. So, another interesting question for data analysis is how the voting information should be combined with the ranking information.

A special feature of making world cup predictions is that there is very useful information provided by the structure of the competition itself. The 32 teams have been drawn in 8 brackets with 4 teams each. Within a bracket, every team plays every other team once in initial group play. The top two teams from each bracket then advance to a series of elimination games. This system places strong constraints on possible outcomes, which a good prediction should follow. For example, Although Group B contains Spain, the Netherlands, and Chile — all strong teams, currently ranked in the top 16 in the world according to FIFA rankings — only two can progress from group play and finish in the top 16 for the world cup.

We developed a model that accounts for all three of these sources of information. It uses the ranking and re-ranking data, the voting data, and the constraints coming from the brackets, to make an overall prediction. The results of this analysis are shown in the figure. The left panel shows the thumbs-up (to the right, lighter) and thumbs-down (to the left, darker) votes for each team. The middle panel summarizes the ranking data, with the area of the circles corresponding to how often each team was ranked in each position. The right hand panel shows the inferred “strength” of each team on which we based our predicted order.

Our overall prediction has host-nation Brazil winning. But the distribution of strengths shown in the model inferences panel suggests it is possible Germany, Argentina, or Spain could win. There is little to separate the remainder of the top 16, with any country from the Netherlands to Algeria capable of doing well in the finals. The impact of the drawn brackets on our predictions is clear, with a raft of strong countries — the England, USA, Uruguay, and Chile — predicted to miss the finals, because they have been drawn in difficult brackets.

– Michael Lee

by    in About Ranker, Opinion Graph, Pop Culture, Rankings

Ranker’s Rankings API Now in Beta

Increasingly, people are looking for specific answers to questions as opposed to webpages that happen to match the text they type into a search engine.  For example, if you search for the capital of France or the birthdate of Leonardo Da Vinci, you get a specific answer.  However, the questions that people ask are increasingly about opinions, not facts, as people are understandably more interested in what the best movie of 2013 was, as opposed to who the producer for Star Trek: Into Darkness was.

Enter Ranker’s Rankings API, which is currently now in beta, as we’d love the input of potential users’ of our API to help improve it.  Our API returns aggregated opinions about specific movies, people, tv shows, places, etc.  As an input, we can take a Wikipedia, Freebase, or Ranker ID.  For example, below is a request for information about Tom Cruise, using his Ranker ID from his Ranker page (contact us if you want to use other IDs to access).
http://api.ranker.com/rankings/?ids=2257588&type=RANKER

In the response to this request, you’ll get a set of Rankings for the requested object, including a set of list names (e.g. “listName”:”The Greatest 80s Teen Stars”), list urls (e.g. “listUrl”:”http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/45-greatest-80_s-teen-stars” – note that the domain, www.ranker.com, is implied), item names (e.g. “itemName”:”Tom Cruise”) position of the item on this list (e.g. “position”:21), number of items on the list (e.g. “numItemsOnList”:70), the number of people who have voted on this list (e.g. “numVoters”:1149), the number of positive votes for this item (e.g. “numUpVotes”:245) vs. the number of negative votes (e.g. “numDownVotes”:169), and the Ranker list id (e.g. “listId”:584305).  Note that results are cached so they may not match the current page exactly.

Here is a snipped of the response for Tom Cruise.

[ { “itemName” : “Tom Cruise”,
“listId” : 346881,
“listName” : “The Greatest Film Actors & Actresses of All Time”,
“listUrl” : “http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/the-greatest-film-actors-and-actresses-of-all-time”,
“numDownVotes” : 306,
“numItemsOnList” : 524,
“numUpVotes” : 285,
“numVoters” : 5305,
“position” : 85
},
{ “itemName” : “Tom Cruise”,
“listId” : 542455,
“listName” : “The Hottest Male Celebrities”,
“listUrl” : “http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/hottest-male-celebrities”,
“numDownVotes” : 175,
“numItemsOnList” : 171,
“numUpVotes” : 86,
“numVoters” : 1937,
“position” : 63
},
{ “itemName” : “Tom Cruise”,
“listId” : 679173,
“listName” : “The Best Actors in Film History”,
“listUrl” : “http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/best-actors”,
“numDownVotes” : 151,
“numItemsOnList” : 272,
“numUpVotes” : 124,
“numVoters” : 1507,
“position” : 102
}

…CLIPPED….
]

What can you do with this API?  Consider this page about Tom Cruise from Google’s Knowledge Graph.  It tells you his children, his spouse(s), and his movies.  But our API will tell you that he is one of the hottest male celebrities, an annoying A-List actor, an action star, a short actor, and an 80s teen star.  His name comes up in discussions of great actors, but he tends to get more downvotes than upvotes on such lists, and even shows up on lists of “overrated” actors.

We can provide this information, not just about actors, but also about politicians, books, places, movies, tv shows, bands, athletes, colleges, brands, food, beer, and more.  We will tend to have more information about entertainment related categories, for now, but as the domains of our lists grow, so too will the breadth of opinion related information available from our API.

Our API is free and no registration is required, though we would request that you provide links and attributions to the Ranker lists that provide this data.  We likely will add some free registration at some point.  There are currently no formal rate limits, though there are obviously practical limits so please contact us if you plan to use the API heavily as we may need to make changes to accommodate such usage.  Please do let me know (ravi a t ranker) your experiences with our API and any suggestions for improvements as we are definitely looking to improve upon our beta offering.

– Ravi Iyer

Ranker Opinion Graph: the Best Froyo Toppings

Its hard to resist a cold treat on a hot summer afternoon, and frozen yogurt shops with their array of flavors and toppings have a little of something for everyone. Once you’re done agonizing over whether you want new york cheesecake or wild berry froyo (and trying a sample of each at least twice), its time for the topping bar. But which topping should you choose? We asked people to vote for their favorite frozen yogurt toppings on Ranker from a list of 32 toppings, and they responded with over 7,500 votes.

The Top 5 Frozen Yogurt Toppings (by number of upvotes):
1. Oreo (235 votes)
2. Strawberries(225 votes)
3. Brownie bits (223 votes)
4. Hot fudge (216 votes)
5. Whipped cream (201 votes)

But let’s be honest, who can just choose just ONE topping for their froyo? Using Gephi and data from Ranker’s Opinion Graph, we ran a cluster analysis on people’s favorite froyo topping votes to determine which toppings people like to eat together (click on graph to enlarge). In the graph, larger circles mean more likes with other toppings. Most of the versatile toppings were either a syrup (like strawberry sauce) or chocolate candy (like Reese’s Pieces).froyo

The 10 Most Versatile Froyo Toppings:

1. Strawberry sauce
2. Snickers
3. Magic Shell
4. White Chocolate chips
5. Peanut butter chips
6. Butterscotch syrup
7. Candies Nestle Butterfinger Bar
8. Reese’s Pieces
9. M&Ms
10. Brownie bits

 

Using the modularity clustering tool in Gephi, we were then able to sort toppings into groups based on which toppings people were most likely to upvote together. We identified 4 kinds of froyo topping lovers:

fruitnut1. Fruit and Nuts (Blue): This cluster is all about the fruits and nuts. These people love Strawberry sauce, sliced almonds, and Marschino cherries.

chocolate2. Chocolate (purple): This cluster encompases all things chocolate. These people love Magic Shell, Brownie bits, and chocolate syrup.

 

sugar3. Sugar candy (green): This cluster is made up of pure sugar. These people love gummy worms, Rainbow sprinkles, and Skittles.

 

 

salty4. Salty and Cake (Red): This cluster encompasses cake bites and toppings that have a salty taste to them. These people like Snickers, Cheesecake bits, and Caramel Syrup.

 

Some additional thoughts:

  • Banana was a strange topping that was only linked with Snickers.
  •  People who like nuts like both fruit and items from the salty category.
  •  People who like blueberries only like other fruits.
  • People who like sugar items like gummy worms also like chocolate, but don’t particularly like fruit.

 

– Kate Johnson

How Netflix’s AltGenre Movie Grammar Illustrates the Future of Search Personalization

I recently got sent this Atlantic article on how Netflix reverse engineered Hollywood by a few contacts, and it happens to mirror my long term vision for how Ranker’s data fits into the future of search personalization.  Netflix’s goal, to put “the right title in front of the right person at the right time,” is very similar to what Apple, Bing, Google, and Facebook are attempting to do with regards to personalized contextual search.  Rather than you having to type in “best kitchen gadgets for mothers”, applications like Google Now and Cue (bought by Apple) hope to eventually be able to surface this information to you in real time, knowing not only when your mother’s birthday is, but also that you tend to buy kitchen gadgets for her, and knowing what the best rated kitchen gadgets that aren’t too complex and are in your price range happen to be.  If the application was good enough, a lot of us would trust it to simply charge our credit card and send the right gift.  But obviously we are a long way from that reality.

Netflix’s altgenre movie grammar (e.g. Irreverent Werewolf Movies Of The 1960s) gives us a glimpse of the level of specificity that would be required to get us there.  Consider what you need to know to buy the right gift for your mom.  You aren’t just looking for a kitchen gadget, but one with specific attributes.  In altgenre terminology, you might be looking for “best simple, beautifully designed kitchen gadgets of 2014 that cost between $25 and $100” or “best kitchen gadgets for vegetarian technophobes”.  Google knows that simple text matching is not going to get it the level of precision necessary to provide such answers, which is why semantic search, where the precise meaning of pages is mapped, has become a strategic priority.

However, the universe of altgenre equivalents in the non-movie world is nearly endless (e.g. Netflix has thousands of ways just to classify movies), which is where Ranker comes in, as one of the world’s largest sources for collecting explicit cross-domain altgenre-like opinions.  Semantic data from sources like wikipedia, dbpedia, and freebase can help you put together factual altgenres like “of the 60s” or “that starred Brad Pitt“, but you need opinion ratings to put together subtler data like “guilty pleasures” or “toughest movie badasses“.  Netflix’s success is proof of the power of this level of specificity in personalizing movies and consider how they produced this knowledge.  Not through running machine learning algorithms on their endless stream of user behavior data, but rather by soliciting explicit ratings along these dimensions by paying “people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata” using a “36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.”  Some people may think that with enough data, TripAdvisor should be able to tell you which cities are “cool”, but big data is not always better data.  Most data scientists will tell you the importance of defining the features in any recommendation task (see this article for technical detail on this), rather than assuming that a large amount of data will reveal all of the right dimensions.  The wrong level of abstraction can make prediction akin to trying to predict who will win the superbowl by knowing the precise position and status of every cell in every player on every NFL team.  Netflix’s system allows them to make predictions at the right level of abstraction.

The future of search needs a Netflix grammar that goes beyond movies.  It needs to able to understand not only which movies are dark versus gritty, but also which cities are better babymoon destinations versus party cities and which rock singers are great vocalists versus great frontmen.  Ranker lists actually have a similar grammar to Netflix movies, except that we apply this grammar beyond the movie domain.  In a subsequent post, I’ll go into more detail about this, but suffice it to say for now that I’m hopeful that our data will eventually play a similar role in the personalization of non-movie content that Netflix’s microtagging plays in film recommendations.

– Ravi Iyer

 

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