Tuesday, September 11, 2012

HuffPo Needs a Better Algorithm

There's a lot of complex math going on behind the webpages we all visit.  If you receive an email with the words book or novel in it, you're instantly targeted with ads ranging from book publishing to Amazon.com's latest bestseller.  That's pretty insane when you think about it.  How in the world does Google's software pick "book" from an email in which the writer might have also included other important nouns like "mother," "homework," "baseball," or "car"?  I couldn't tell you.  The fact is that we've got a lot of really smart people writing really smart programs that essentially govern the media we're exposed to.

So it begs the question: if these people are so freaking smart, how is it possible to stumble upon something as blatantly STUPID as the above shot, taken from today's Huffington Post website.  The Huffington Post, or HuffPo as it's sometimes referred to, is an internet-only news source.  It's liberal, so if you've been plugged into FoxNews your whole life, you might not have heard of it.

So back to the shot.  Take a really close look.  The title of it reads "HuffPost's Big News Pages."  That's a good start.  It gets you wondering what is going on in the world.  There are some obvious ones, of course -- "Energy," "Election 2012," "September 11 Anniversary," "Hurrican Isaac 2012," "Libya," and "Taxes."  But wedged in there are some real losers: "fish" and "Bacon."  If you've got a puzzled look on your face, that makes you a normal human being.

What the hell is bacon doing up there with September 11 and Taxes?  Seriously.  This is evidence of an algorithm, some fancy piece of mathematical software, gone very very wrong.  Obviously, the HuffPo's software has grabbed all the websites that have gotten the most hits.  That's fine.  But they can't forget that there are actual HUMANS reading their website.  It's more than a little offensive to see BACON up there with a NATIONAL and WORLD TRAGEDY.

In chess software, you can't just tell the computer that the King is the most important piece on the board.  You have to assign it a value.  From what I've been told, you give the King such a high value (like a million versus the Queen's value of 9 or the Pawn's value of 1) that the chess program understands as a byproduct that the King is to be guarded at all costs.

It seems to me that if it's that easy to do that in chess software, it should be equally easy to do that with this.  Just assign Bacon a negative value in relation to Big News.  It's that easy.  Take it off the list.  People who are into bacon won't be offended, just like people who like comic strips aren't offended that they aren't on the front page of the newspaper.  Seriously, this one is a no-brainer.

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