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the recommendation trap: iPlayer

I am a bit obsessed by ‘when recommendations go wrong’ scenarios like the JustRabbitHutches incident.

iPlayer hasn’t done anything that silly, but it does seem to struggle with the recommendation concept. They sit particularly uneasily alongside the new Favourites functionality.

When the latest incarnation was in beta, I was quite excited by the prospect of favourite programmes and categories functionality. This had the potential to meet some of the needs that the absence of sophisticated browse function left. If I could tailor the content more then I’d need to browse less.

But the new site makes surprisingly little use of the favourites functionality. After you’ve put the effort into setting your favourites, it pretty much ignores all the work you’ve put in.

The favourite programmes bar is always closed. The favourite categories are similarly always closed. The radio stations box doesn’t remember your selection.

The homepage is dominated by four sections: Featured; For You; Most Popular; and Friends. None of these areas seem to be influenced by your own preferences.

Featured is rarely of interest to me but I get the editorial need to have some promo space.

For You is where the recommendations kick in but at least initially I had no idea what this section was supposed to be doing. A good design pattern is to explain recommendations ala Amazon and to let you know if there is anything you can do to make the suggestions better.

Most Popular is ok for me. Occasionally my interests overlap with the majority and then this spot is useful. Friends might be occasionally interesting, although “a people like you like” might have been more valuable. It seems a bit odd for the area to persist if you don’t login/specify any friends.

All these sections are potentially useful but the best predictor of my interests is my interests. It seems that in this design My Favourites and My Categories are given lower emphasis than *everything* else.

This is compounded by the presence of the For You section. As another commentator put it:

“why on earth would the site suggest I watch Eastenders? It’s been on TV for over 25 years and I’ve never once felt inclined to watch it, so what intuitive masterstroke has been developed to think that I may now wish to start?”.

Once you give recommendations personal labels like “For You” then people start to take your recommendations personally.

I’m annoyed that I told iPlayer what I like and it still insists on telling me that BBC 3 sitcoms are “for you!”. It’s started reminding me of my grandad and that’s not a flattering comparison.

Written by Karen

November 9th, 2010 at 6:30 am

Posted in bbc,recommendations