You Can Change It Later

The Blog Of David Marks

Why Amazon’s Facebook Integration Revolutionizes The Recommendations Space

Posted on | July 27, 2010 | 2 Comments

I’ve publicly stated previously that social recommendations generate far higher engagement rates than many other recommendation techniques. When I was at Loomia back in 07/08 we launched a product which was the first Facebook powered social recommendation service for media sites, called SeenThis. It was a widget that you could put on your web site which showed recommendations for content that was popular with your friends and social network groups, and it used data from Facebook to provide that context. Click-through rates for social recommendations were through the roof.

That’s why I think it’s significant that today announced social recommendations for their site using Facebook social graph data. I think this is going to be successful in driving substantial new sales, and their initial product release is just the beginning. Before long, I think most recommendations and navigational elements on Amazon will feature social elements. It’s not as simple as just adding social data, but I’m confident that once the user experience elements are better understood this will drive real engagement and sales.

Amazon Social Recommendations

Why do social recommendations work so well? It’s psychology. People don’t trust machines to generate good recommendations for them inherently. People need some context to help them decide if the recommendation is good, or not. And social context is the most powerful kind of context that a human uses to make decisions, in my experience.  It’s evolution at work.

When Amazon shows you a recommendation for a product and states that it’s popular with your friends, you’re very likely to trust that recommendation higher than one that lacks that context. You’re likely to click, even if the actual recommendation is silly. For those of you in my friends network who like Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, damn you for making me click that link. 😉

I also believe that social recommendations is an untapped area in the research field of recommendations. Recommendation algorithms are a very popular research area and each year hundreds of academic researchers diligently work on better solutions and improved accuracy. Yet the actual improvements in accuracy have been flatlining for nearly a decade, and a 1% improvement is considered substantial. Well, that isn’t commercially very significant and more creatively is needed to make more significant advances.

The Netflix prize was a good example of how much effort is required merely to deliver a tiny, incremental increase in accuracy. A $1M contest achieved the “seemingly impossible” task of improving accuracy by 10%! While technically impressive, that is not a very significant gain commercially. It’s not the fault of the researchers; the contest rules artificially constrained the possible outcomes.  2x, 5x, even 10x improvements in engagement are possible for recommendations by focusing on how the recommendations are presented to the user, but sadly such elements were not part of the contest.

Thus, I commend Facebook and Amazon on applying creatively to the recommendation problem space by integrating social context into recommendations. I think it going to make a real impact and help advance the field.

And if you’re a PhD candidate working on recommendation algorithms, I encourage you to experiment with social data and consider human psychology in your research. There are rich, untapped areas of this technology space still to be explored.


2 Responses to “Why Amazon’s Facebook Integration Revolutionizes The Recommendations Space”

  1. Alvin Tan
    July 28th, 2010 @ 3:46 am

    While social recommendations may be superior in their ability to engage users vis-a-vis machine-generated recommendations (think Hunch, DailyPerfect, etc.), social recommendations are not infallible, especially if used in a way contrary to the mechanics of social media.

    I explored this issue right in greater detail here:

  2. eBay Items
    August 27th, 2012 @ 11:46 pm

    Here is the ultimate solution to integrate Amazon listings into your Facebook page for FREE using this Faebook app:

Leave a Reply