Either Google Book Search Needs to Tweak Its Recommendation Engine, or There Are Furniture-Building Secrets in “Freakonomics”

That is my conclusion after seeing this Google Book Search Page for a book called How to Build Your Own Furniture. The page lists three “Related Books,” including How to Make Your Own Recreation and Hobby Rooms, How to Build Your Cabin or Modern Vacation Home, and … Freakonomics.

Huh?

I am trying to think of what may have fooled the Google recommendation engine into tossing our book in there. While it is true that I was briefly a carpenter, and often think of writing a book as a process very similar to building a house, and probably therefore rely more than the average writer on verbs like “dovetail” and “hinge” (used in a non-carpentry manner, however), I cannot figure this one out. I do think that people who are interested in any of the other three books on the page are bound to be pretty disappointed if they happen to grab the fourth.

(Hat tip: Andrew Burkett)

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COMMENTS: 26


  1. editorguy says:

    Unless … Google’s increasingly sophisticated search engine is considering “furniture” in a metaphorical sense, as in the detritus of the things that surround and support us in everyday life. Google in this sense is exploring the hidden side of furniture, if you will, with links to present-day Turkey behind entries for “ottoman,” for example.

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  2. editorguy says:

    Unless … Google’s increasingly sophisticated search engine is considering “furniture” in a metaphorical sense, as in the detritus of the things that surround and support us in everyday life. Google in this sense is exploring the hidden side of furniture, if you will, with links to present-day Turkey behind entries for “ottoman,” for example.

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  3. Vincent Clement says:

    I just clicked on the Google Book Search Page link and Freakonomics did not come up. Perhaps a Googler has already tweaked their recommendation engine.

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  4. Vincent Clement says:

    I just clicked on the Google Book Search Page link and Freakonomics did not come up. Perhaps a Googler has already tweaked their recommendation engine.

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  5. danilo.paiva says:

    What happens is that Google doesn’t necessarly go through the book’s content to relate it other books in order to recommend them. What it probably does (I don’t know if INSTEAD or ALSO) is check the amount of people interested in two particular books. If it manages to find enough people interested in both Freakonomics and whatever furniture book that was, you get the recommendation. Since Freakonomics is a best-seller, and has been for a while now, it makes sense that it might be errouneously recommended to other books’ readers.

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  6. danilo.paiva says:

    What happens is that Google doesn’t necessarly go through the book’s content to relate it other books in order to recommend them. What it probably does (I don’t know if INSTEAD or ALSO) is check the amount of people interested in two particular books. If it manages to find enough people interested in both Freakonomics and whatever furniture book that was, you get the recommendation. Since Freakonomics is a best-seller, and has been for a while now, it makes sense that it might be errouneously recommended to other books’ readers.

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  7. hedgehog says:

    Google seems to have an interesting algorithm for making recommendations. When I clicked on the Freakonomics recommendation, it brought up the information about the book including recommendations based on it. It recommended “Morley and Me.” I don’t recall too many dogs dying in Freakonomics.

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  8. hedgehog says:

    Google seems to have an interesting algorithm for making recommendations. When I clicked on the Freakonomics recommendation, it brought up the information about the book including recommendations based on it. It recommended “Morley and Me.” I don’t recall too many dogs dying in Freakonomics.

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  9. editorguy says:

    Could be that the Marley book came up because, like Freakonomics, it was penned by a newspaperman.

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  10. editorguy says:

    Could be that the Marley book came up because, like Freakonomics, it was penned by a newspaperman.

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  11. jeffstier says:

    On a brighter note, on CNBC last night- on “On The Money” in an interview wiht Carl Icahn, they show a shot of him walking in what is presumably in his office- and there is an EMPTY bookshelf- with just ONE book on it- Freakonomics! If you subscribe to CNBC.com you can probably get the video online.

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  12. jeffstier says:

    On a brighter note, on CNBC last night- on “On The Money” in an interview wiht Carl Icahn, they show a shot of him walking in what is presumably in his office- and there is an EMPTY bookshelf- with just ONE book on it- Freakonomics! If you subscribe to CNBC.com you can probably get the video online.

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  13. edgii says:

    I would bet it has to do with the article you wrote about the economist from Chicago, who always works on papers in tandem with others, and stays home making furniture- something like that- I am recalling from memory.

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  14. edgii says:

    I would bet it has to do with the article you wrote about the economist from Chicago, who always works on papers in tandem with others, and stays home making furniture- something like that- I am recalling from memory.

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  15. montag says:

    Maybe it figured out that it was you? For example, Google could have some sort of profile of you based on a Gmail account, Google Reader account, etc. I’ve heard that Google is starting to make history-based recommendations now.

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  16. montag says:

    Maybe it figured out that it was you? For example, Google could have some sort of profile of you based on a Gmail account, Google Reader account, etc. I’ve heard that Google is starting to make history-based recommendations now.

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  17. Alsadius says:

    It seems pretty simple – as with most Google links, it’s based off how closely people link them, not based on actual content(search “miserable failure” to see what I mean). Presumably, Freakonomics was one of the three books most frequently bought with the one you were looking for, so it’s displayed as being linked. Sometimes it’s nonsensical, but it’s by far the easiest way to generate connections, so people use it.

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  18. Alsadius says:

    It seems pretty simple – as with most Google links, it’s based off how closely people link them, not based on actual content(search “miserable failure” to see what I mean). Presumably, Freakonomics was one of the three books most frequently bought with the one you were looking for, so it’s displayed as being linked. Sometimes it’s nonsensical, but it’s by far the easiest way to generate connections, so people use it.

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  19. 3612 says:

    To borrow an argot from a true literary/carpentry classic, “House” by Tracy Kidder, Google has done a “cobby” job, but it’s one that works… sorta. And that’s the essence of cobbiness!

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  20. 3612 says:

    To borrow an argot from a true literary/carpentry classic, “House” by Tracy Kidder, Google has done a “cobby” job, but it’s one that works… sorta. And that’s the essence of cobbiness!

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  21. zbicyclist says:

    Structural equations ~ structures?
    Zoning variances ~ error variances?
    Levitt ~ Levittown?

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  22. zbicyclist says:

    Structural equations ~ structures?
    Zoning variances ~ error variances?
    Levitt ~ Levittown?

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  23. Kent says:

    The first part of an article in The New York Times yesterday:

    ["Besides the fact that both are considered great movies, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Silence of the Lambs” don't have much in common. One is the story of a girl from Kansas who's transported to a magical land where animals dance and sing, and the other is about a serial killer who eats his victims. You wouldn't necessarily expect people to have similar reactions to the two movies.

    But it turns out that, for whatever reason, they usually do. Those who love one tend to love the other, and those who think one is overrated generally think the other one is, too

    This odd little fact comes from an enormous database of movie ratings collected by Netflix, the online movie rental store. On its Web site, customers can give any movie 1 to 5 stars, and the company then uses these ratings — 1.6 billion of them — to find connections like the one between “Oz” and “Silence of the Lambs."]

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/business/31leonhardt.html

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  24. Kent says:

    The first part of an article in The New York Times yesterday:

    ["Besides the fact that both are considered great movies, "The Wizard of Oz" and "Silence of the Lambs" don't have much in common. One is the story of a girl from Kansas who's transported to a magical land where animals dance and sing, and the other is about a serial killer who eats his victims. You wouldn't necessarily expect people to have similar reactions to the two movies.

    But it turns out that, for whatever reason, they usually do. Those who love one tend to love the other, and those who think one is overrated generally think the other one is, too

    This odd little fact comes from an enormous database of movie ratings collected by Netflix, the online movie rental store. On its Web site, customers can give any movie 1 to 5 stars, and the company then uses these ratings - 1.6 billion of them - to find connections like the one between "Oz" and "Silence of the Lambs."]

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/business/31leonhardt.html

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  25. srjones says:

    Perhaps people embue Google’s algorithms with too much “magic.”

    If you search Google for “Levitt”, the #3 and #5 results are for William Levitt, one the most prolific home builders of the 20th century. #6 is for a page entitled “Professor and Chair.”

    Also, the #7 result for a search of “Stephen Levitt” links to a blog called “Crooked Timber.”

    I’d say Google was just offering up books with mass appeal (sorry, that probably doesn’t include economics books) that matched any of the non-economic keywords “builder”, “home”, “chair”, “timber.”

    Bottom-line, I imagine Google’s economic motive is to push ads for popular, related products with a strong bias toward popular even when “related” is a stretch.

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  26. srjones says:

    Perhaps people embue Google’s algorithms with too much “magic.”

    If you search Google for “Levitt”, the #3 and #5 results are for William Levitt, one the most prolific home builders of the 20th century. #6 is for a page entitled “Professor and Chair.”

    Also, the #7 result for a search of “Stephen Levitt” links to a blog called “Crooked Timber.”

    I’d say Google was just offering up books with mass appeal (sorry, that probably doesn’t include economics books) that matched any of the non-economic keywords “builder”, “home”, “chair”, “timber.”

    Bottom-line, I imagine Google’s economic motive is to push ads for popular, related products with a strong bias toward popular even when “related” is a stretch.

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