I’m not sure I have the same faith in algorithms.

Yes, the interest feed is an important idea. But it needs to be magic. You need to click into your app and immediately see your key interests, with the best possible content for each one. It needs to wow me. I need to spend as little time as possible in your app, because the algorithm is so incredible that I’m immediately clicking through to something incredible to read.

A computer can’t figure that out for you on its own. Guess what that algorithm is powered by?

Yep. People.

To create an incredible recommendation algorithm, you need to seed it with millions of people doing the hard work of recommending manually. That information gives you the signal you need to learn how to recommend things automatically, and to build a machine that can do this reliably. Importantly, the seed isn’t a one-time thing: your machine needs to keep learning.

Even then, it’s excruciatingly hard. Twitter has hundreds of millions of users, all recommending links to breaking news and interesting resources. Instead of creating an amazing, automatic interest feed, they ran Discover — which is a very solid technical achievement, but as a product I don’t think it’s ever taken anyone’s breath away. Now they have Moments, which are hand-curated by real human editors, who can better create insightful, human experiences.

Here on Medium, we read new content based on the people we’ve interacted with in the past, and the things our network recommends to us. My network is pretty well-curated, so I get the exact mix of tech, news, politics and human interest stories I’m interested in. It works pretty well for me. Could it be better? Absolutely. I guarantee the next version of Medium will be better than the Medium we have today, just as it’s a better network than it was when it launched.

Someday, maybe someone will create a magical interest algorithm that takes our breath away. (If they do, I’ll bet it works by analyzing recommendations across social networks.) Until then, we have that interest graph. Just follow people you’re interested in, who care about the topics you are about — and accept that, hey, your community of friends, family and peers are an interest, too.

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Writer: of code, fiction, and strategy. Trying to work for social good.

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