Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Marginal Note: Algorithmic Patterns

or Why I Do Not Want a Computer to Choose My Reads

Like for most people, prize competitions are a constant temptation for me, too. Why not try my luck to win something that I don’t desperately need and therefore won’t buy, but wouldn’t mind calling my own? It goes without saying that in general the prize isn’t mine – unless it’s a book. Of course, I don’t win every book disposed of by lot, and yet, I must say that I’ve been lucky strikingly often in my life. Again there is an important exception: GOODREADS giveaways. 

I don’t know exactly how often I entered to win a book on GOODREADS since I discovered the giveaway section. Maybe it was about fifty times? At any rate it wasn’t too often considering the number of books made available by authors every week. What I do know for sure is that I won only a fraction of the carefully chosen novels, short-story collections and magazines that I would have liked to read although after the drawing I never bothered to search for one of them in a shop. 

GOODREADS like other sites uses an algorithm to pick the winners of its giveaways. It’s only fair that the number of books that a member already won lessens the chances for another draw. It’s alright with me too that every (positive) review of a giveaway published on the site increases the chances to win. However, I find it annoying that the content of my shelves and my assessment of the individual books has an influence as well although I certainly understand the reasons why. 

Those past couple of months I tried several times to win the new English translation of a nineteenth-century classic that one of my many literary birthday twins wrote, but it doesn’t fit into my usual reads. My focus uses to be on literature from 1900 on and I’m no frequent reader of romances, so I waited in vain for the congratulation e-mail telling me that I won. And it wasn’t the first time that I entered to win the very same book again and again on GOODREADS without ever being chosen. 

Unfortunately, the GOODREADS algorithm doesn’t take account of people like me who take considerable pleasure in trying out something new every once in a while. Mind you, I really enjoy making literary side steps to discover genres and writers whose work usually escapes my attention. Giveaway lists are a good way to come across something out of the rut that I would never think of buying. It’s a pity that readers aren’t given much of a chance to go astray, though. 

Also the book suggestions of GOODREADS, amazon and others are rarely my cup of tea. They are always too much in a line with my latest reads or searches. I hate following such narrow patterns! It would mean to reduce my horizon instead of widening it. In addition, it would be boring. It would rob me of the pleasure of new discoveries. To cut a long story short: an algorithm will never be able to anticipate my reading choices and my assessment of books.

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