When it comes to web personalization and providing users with truly relevant content, can computers or people do it better?
Have you ever wondered how sites like Amazon recommend which products you might want to buy, often with astounding accuracy? That’s an algorithm at work. Ever had any experience with online dating? Your romantic encounters were likely a result of algorithms designed to help users find their perfect match. In fact, countless businesses—including Google, the Internet behemoth that has become a verb in and of itself—owe their success to algorithms.
"...there are still doubts as to whether algorithms are appropriate in all situations—particularly those that still require an element of 'human touch'."
These tools have the power to use vast amounts of raw data to provide fast, efficient and scalable solutions to complex problems, like calculating the fastest routes for logistics companies to deliver goods, and helping supermarkets track customers’ buying patterns to help decide exactly what products to stock and where to put them. Despite these benefits, however, there are still doubts as to whether algorithms are appropriate in all situations—particularly those that still require an element of “human touch”.
The Case for Human Curation
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the humans versus machines argument. One camp believes that as the amount of data goes up, the importance of human judgement goes down, while the other argues that algorithms can be impersonal, inaccurate and sometimes serve up suggestions that are way off the mark.
The truth is that humans have a powerful weapon in their arsenal that algorithms lack: they have the ability to ask “why”—something that even the most intelligent of machines aren’t inclined to ask. Instances such as these build the case for human intervention and curation, and prove that relying on data and math alone won’t suffice when it comes to web personalization and providing the best user experience possible.
Where Algorithms Shine
While the human brain is an astonishing machine, it isn’t without its limitations. In the digital epoch, there are now more potential data inputs than ever—including web search history, social media activity, customer service interactions and more—meaning that the potential pool of data available to retailers to create one-to-one shopping experiences is deeper than ever before. But this pool has become so extensive that it surpasses our human ability to understand it—and that’s where the power, precision, reliability and speed of execution of algorithms comes into play.
"...the potential pool of data available to retailers to create one-to-one shopping experiences is deeper than ever before."
Data-Driven Decision-Making or Human Intuition?
So in the age of big data and algorithmic personalization, does human intuition still have a role to play? The truth is that while algorithms may not perform better than people in every instance, they do consistently perform better than most people—and today’s customers demand consistent experiences in every single interaction. What’s more, as other online retailers have begun to master the art of web personalization, the expectations of consumers have only intensified.
At this juncture there is a solid argument for combining the two, utilizing both the scalability of algorithms and the inherent understanding of humans to ensure the best possible outcomes. Human judgement simply can’t compete against machine-learning systems that obtain predictions from millions of data points—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for gut feeling and intuition. After all, online dating sites may present you with plenty of options for dates, but your friends are likely going to be far better judges of character.