Monday, July 8, 2019 [Tweets] [Favorites]

No Engagement Algorithms

Brent Simmons:

These kinds of algorithms optimize for engagement, and the quickest path to engagement is via the drugs outrage and anger — which require, and generate, bigger and bigger hits.

This is what Twitter and Facebook are about — but it’s not right for NetNewsWire. The app puts you in control. You choose the sites and blogs you want to read, and the app reliably shows you their articles sorted by time. That’s it.

Joshua Emmons:

Brent is making a subtle point here:

  1. Algorithms weigh signal.
  2. In the domain of engagement, outrage and anger mask all other signals.
  3. These signals are fatiguing. As Outrage: 5 is normalized, Outrage: 10 is now required to move the needle.

1. and 2. mean it’s not the algorithm’s fault. There’s no way to write an engagement algorithm that doesn’t select for outrage and anger. But 3. means anything that incorporates such an algorithm actually makes us worse people.

Brent Simmons:

Maybe, though, I could do better. I kind of think not, because I think the problem is a bug in human nature. But let’s say I believed I could do better.

Should I?

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