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Hey Amazon, My Recommendations Are Broken!

"Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you don’t know as your financial means, mortgage rates and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there." -- Nassim Taleb, The Black Swan

What makes this collection of unread books, dubbed the Anti-Library, so valuable? Because they could contain information that is currently unknown to you.

If you are like me and believe this, then you certainly like Amazon’s recommendation engine. It tells you all of the books that people with your spending, ahem, “reading” habits have purchased. This is a fantastic example of building up your very own virtual Anti-Library. Maybe they should change the wording from “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” to “In Your Anti-Library”. But wait, before we get too excited about the idea, let’s revisit the nature of the current recommendations.

Amazon’s recommendations look like a good start for an Anti-Library on the surface but, in order to truly be considered an Anti-Library, these books would need to contain information that does not exist in your Library. By recommending books that other people share your buying habits are buying, Amazon relies on our natural human biases to provide you with books that you’ll probably like precisely because they reinforce your existing beliefs.

A much better recommendation engine would identify books that challenge the ideas contained within the books you’ve already read. These books would provide you with new insights and other points of view that you wouldn’t have received otherwise. This is the true nature of the Anti-Library.

So Amazon, fix my recommendations! I want my Anti-Library!