Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Google’s Lie

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on January 7, 2020

finger-512I’ve already written an article or two about YouTube giving content creators the finger. I didn’t really put that information into this article’s context so that everyone can really understand what’s actually going on at YouTube, with the FTC and with Google. Let’s explore.

Lies and Fiction

Google has asserted and maintained, since at least 2000 when COPPA came into effect, that it didn’t allow children under age 13 on its platforms. Well, Google was caught with its proverbial pants down and suffered a $170 million fine at the hand of the FTC based on COPPA. Clearly, Google lied. To maintain that lie, it has had to do a number of things:

  1. For YouTube content creators, YouTube has hidden its metrics for anyone under the age of 13 from viewer stats on YouTube. What that means to creators is that the viewer metrics you see on your stats page is completely inaccurate for those under the age of 13. If Google had disclosed the under 13 age group of stats on this page, Google’s lie would have unraveled far faster than it did. For Google to maintain its lie, it had to hide any possible trail that could lead to uncovering this lie.
  2. For other Google platforms (Stadia, Chromebook, Android phones, etc), they likely also kept these statistics secret for the same reasons. Disclosure that the 12 and under age group existed on Google meant disclosing to the FTC that they had lied about this age group using its services all along.
  3. For Android phones, we’ll let’s just say that many a kid 12 and under have owned Android phones. Parents have bought them and handed them over to their children. For the FTC to remain so oblivious to this fact for years is a testament to how badly operated this portion of the government is.
  4. Google / YouTube had to instruct engineers to design software systems around this “we don’t display under age 13 metrics” lie.

Anyway, so lie Google did. They lied from 2000 all of the way to 2019. That’s almost 20 years of lying to the government… and to the public.

YouTube’s Lie

Considering that even just one COPPA infraction found to be “valid” could leave a YouTube channel owner destitute. After all, Google’s fine was $170 million. Because a single violation could cost a whopping $42,530, it’s a major risk simply to maintain a YouTube channel.

Because of the problem of Google perpetuating its lie about 12 and under for so long, this lie has become ingrained in Google’s corporate culture (and software systems). What this means is that for Google to maintain this lie, it had to direct its engineers to write software to avoid showing any statistic information anywhere that could disclose to anyone that Google allows 12 and under onto any of its platforms, let alone YouTube.

This also means that YouTube content creators are entirely left in the dark when it comes to viewer statistics of ages 12 and under. Because Google had intended to continue maintaining its “we don’t serve 12 and under here” lie, it meant that its systems were designed around this lie. This meant that any place where 12 and under could have been disclosed, this data was specifically culled and redacted from view. No one, specifically not YouTube content creators, could see viewer metrics for anyone 12 and under. By intentionally redacting this information from its statistics interfaces, no one could see that 12 and under were actually viewing YouTube videos or even buying products. As a creator, you really have no idea how many 12 and under viewers you have. The FTC will have access into YouTube’s systems to see this information, even if you as a content creator do not.

This means that content creators are actually in the dark for this viewer age group. There’s no way to really know if this age group is being accurately counted. Actually, Google is likely collecting this information, but they’re simply not disclosing it over public interfaces. Though, to be fully safe and to fully protect Google’s lie, they might have been purging this data more often than 13 and older data. If they don’t have the data on the system, they can’t be easily caught with it. Still, that didn’t help when Google finally did get caught and were fined $170 million.

Unfortunately, because Google’s systems were intentionally designed around a lie and because they are now already in place, undoing that intentional design lie could be a challenge for Google. They’ve had 19 years worth of engineering effort build code upon code avoiding disclosure of 12 and under using Google’s platforms. Undoing 19 years of coding might be a problem.

Swinging back around to that huge fine, this leaves YouTube in a quandary. It means that content creators have no way to know if the metrics that are being served to content creators are in any way accurate. After all, Google has been maintaining this lie for 19 years. They’ve built and maintained their systems around this lie. But now, Google must undo 19 years of lies built into their systems to allow content creators to see what we already knew… that 12 and under have been using the platform probably since 2000.

For content creators, you need to think twice when considering setting up a channel on YouTube. It doesn’t matter what your content is. If that content attracts children under 13, you’re at risk. The only type of channel content that cannot at all be seen as “for kids” is content that kids would never watch. There is really only a handful of content type I can name that wouldn’t appeal to children (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Legal advice from lawyers
  2. Court room video
  3. Horror programs
  4. Political programs
  5. Frank sex topics

It would probably be easier to state those types of programs that do appeal to children:

  1. Pretty much everything else

What that means is topics like music videos, video game footage, cartoons, pet videos, singing competitions, beauty channels, fashion channels, technology channels and toy reviews could appeal to children… and the list goes on. You name it and pretty much every other content type has the possibility of attracting children 12 and under… some content more than others. There’s literally very little that a child 12 and under might not consider watching.

The thing is, when someone decides to create a channel on YouTube, you must now consider if the content you intend to create might appeal to children 12 and under. If it’s generalized information without the use of explicit information, children could potentially tune in. Though, YouTube doesn’t allow true adult content on its platform.

Google’s lie has really put would-be channel creators into a huge bind with YouTube, plummeting the value of YouTube as a platform. For monetization, not only is there now the 1,000 subscriber hurdle you must get past and you must also have 14,000 views in a month, but now you must also be cognizant of the audience your content might attract. Even seemingly child-unfriendly content might draw in children unintentionally. If you interview the wrong person on your channel, you might find that you now have a huge child audience. Operating a YouTube Channel is a huge risk.

YouTube’s Value as a Platform

With this recent Google change, compounded by Google’s lie, the value of YouTube as a video sharing platform has significantly dropped. Not only did Google drop a bomb on its content creators, it has lied to not only the government, but to the public for years. With the FTC’s hand watching what you’re doing on YouTube, YouTube really IS moving towards “big government watching” as described in George Orwell’s book 1984. Why Google would allow such a deep level of governmental interference over its platform is a major problem, not just for Google, but for the computer industry as a whole. It’s incredibly chilling.

$42,530 per COPPA violation is not just small change you can pull out of your pocket. That’s significant bank. So much bank, in fact, that a single violation could bankrupt nearly any less than 100,000 subscriber channel on YouTube.

Not only do you have to overcome YouTube’s silly monetization hurdles, you must attempt to stay far away from the COPPA hurdle that YouTube has now foisted on you.

Google’s Mistake

Google did have a way to rectify and remediate this situation early. It’s called honesty. They could have simply fixed their platform to accurately protect and steer 12 and under away from its properties where they don’t belong. It could have stated that it did (and does) allow 12 and under to sign up.

If Google had simply been honest about 12 and under and allowed 12 and under to sign up, Google could have set up the correct processes from the beginning that would have allowed not only Google to become COPPA compliant, but by extension allow YouTube creators to remain compliant through Google’s tools. Google should have always remained in the business of protecting its creators from governmental interference. Yet, here we are.

In fact, the COPPA legislation allows for parental permission and consent and it’s not actually that hard to set up, particularly for a large organization like Google. For Google, in fact, it already has mechanisms it could leverage to attempt to obtain verifiable parental consent. If Google had chosen to setup and maintain a 12 and under verifiable parental consent program all along, YouTube content creators could have been left off of the hook. Instead, YouTube has given content creators the finger.

If YouTube content creators must share in Google’s lack of COPPA compliance, then content creators should equally share in a Google created parental consent system. Parental consent isn’t that hard to implement. Google could have spent its time building such a system instead of lying.

Trust and Lies

When companies as big as Google participate in lies of this magnitude, you should seriously question any business you do with such a company. Companies are supposed to be ethically bound to do the right thing. When companies don’t do the right ethical thing and perpetuate lies for years, everyone must consider how much you trust that company.

What else are they lying about? It’s difficult to trust someone who lies. Why is it any different when a company chooses to lie?

When that lie can cost you $42,530 per violation, that’s what comes out of lying. Google not only didn’t protect its content creators, it perpetuated a lie that has now left its content creators hanging out to dry.

This is why YouTube as a content creator platform is about as worthless as it can possibly be… not only for the lie and COPPA, but also the monetization clampdown from 2017-2018. Every year has brought another downside to YouTube and for 2019, it’s Google’s lie.

For large creators who have an entrenched large audience and who are making ad revenue bank from their audience (at least for the moment), I understand the dilemma to ditch YouTube. But, for those content creators who make maybe $5 a month, is it worth that $5 a month to risk $42,530 every time you upload a video? Worse, the FTC can go back through your back video catalog and fine you for every single video they find! That’s a lot of $42,530 fines, potentially at least one per video. Now that’s risky!

Solutions

There are solutions. The biggest solution, ditch YouTube for other video platforms such as Facebook, SnapChat, Vimeo or DailyMotion. If you’re live streaming, there’s YouNow, Twitch and Mixer. You’re not beholden to YouTube to gain an audience and following. In fact, with the huge black COPPA cloud now permanently hanging over YouTube, it’s only a matter of time before the FTC starts its tirade and cements what I’m saying here in this article. For small and medium sized creators, particularly brand new creators, it’s officially time to give YouTube the finger-512 (just as Google has given us the finger-512). It’s long past time to ditch YouTube and to find an alternative video sharing platform. You might as well make that one a 2020 New Year’s resolution. Let’s all agree that YouTube is officially dead and move on.

Just be sure to read the fine print of whatever service you are considering using. For example, Twitch’s terms and conditions are very explicit with regards to age… no one under 13 is permitted on Twitch. If only Google had been able to actually maintain that reality instead of lying about it for nearly 20 years.

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Rant Time: Google doesn’t understand COPPA

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on November 24, 2019

kid-tablet.jpgWe all know what Google is, but what is COPPA? COPPA stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and is legislation designed to incidentally protect children by protecting their personal data given to web site operators. YouTube has recently made a platform change allegedly around COPPA, but it is entirely misguided. It also shows that Google doesn’t fundamentally understand the COPPA legislation. Let’s explore.

COPPA — What it isn’t

The COPPA body of legislation is intended to protect how and when a child’s personal data may be collected, stored, used and processed by web site operators. It has very specific verbiage describing how and when such data can be collected and used. It is, by its very nature, a data protection and privacy act. It protects the data itself… and, by extension, the protection of that data hopes to protect the child. This Act isn’t intended to protect the child directly and it is misguided to assume that it does. COPPA protects personal private data of children.

By the above, that means that the child is incidentally protected by how their collected data can (or cannot) be used. For the purposes of COPPA, a “child” is defined to be any person under the age of 13. Let’s look at a small portion of the body of this text.

General requirements. It shall be unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under this part. Generally, under this part, an operator must:

(a) Provide notice on the Web site or online service of what information it collects from children, how it uses such information, and its disclosure practices for such information (§312.4(b));

(b) Obtain verifiable parental consent prior to any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from children (§312.5);

(c) Provide a reasonable means for a parent to review the personal information collected from a child and to refuse to permit its further use or maintenance (§312.6);

(d) Not condition a child’s participation in a game, the offering of a prize, or another activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in such activity (§312.7); and

(e) Establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children (§312.8).

This pretty much sums up the tone for what follows in the body text of this legislation. What it essentially states is all about “data collection” and what you (as a web site operator) must do specifically if you intend to collect specific data from someone under the age of 13… and, more specifically, what data you can and cannot collect.

YouTube and Google’s Misunderstanding of COPPA

YouTube’s parent company is Google. That means that I may essentially interchange “Google” for “YouTube” because both are one-in-the-same company. With that said, let’s understand how Google / YouTube fundamentally does not understand the COPPA body of legislation.

Google has recently rolled out a new feature to its YouTube content creators. It is a checkbox both as a channel wide setting and as an individual video setting. This setting sets a flag whether the video is targeted towards children or not (see image below for this setting’s details). Let’s understand Google’s misunderstanding of COPPA.

COPPA is a data protection act. It is not a child protection act. Sure, it incidentally protects children because of what is allowed to be collected, stored and processed, but make no mistake, it protects collected data directly, not children. With that said, checking a box on a video whether it is appropriate for children has nothing whatever to do with data collection. Let’s understand why.

Google has, many years ago in fact, already implemented a system to prevent “children” (as defined by COPPA) to sign up for and use Google’s platforms. What that means is when someone signs up for a Google account, that person is asked questions to ascertain the person’s age. If that age is identified as under 13, that account is classified by Google as in use by a “child”. Once Google identifies a child, it is then obligated to uphold ALL laws governed by COPPA (and other applicable child privacy laws) … that includes all data collection practices required by COPPA and other applicable laws. It can also then further apply Google related children protections against that account (i.e. to prevent the child from viewing inappropriate content on YouTube). Google would have needed to uphold these data privacy laws since the year 2000, when COPPA was enacted. If Google has failed to protect a child’s collected data or failed to uphold COPPA’s other provisions, then that’s on Google. It is also a situation firmly between Google and the FTC … the governmental body tasked with enforcing the COPPA legislation. Google solely collects the data. Therefore, it is exclusively on Google if that data is used or collected in inappropriate ways, counter to COPPA’s requirements.

YouTube’s newest “not appropriate for children” flag

As of November 2019, YouTube has implemented a new flag for YouTube content creators. The channel-wide setting looks like so:

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 2.33.32 AM

This setting, for all intents and purposes, isn’t related to COPPA. COPPA doesn’t care whether video content is targeted towards children. COPPA cares about how data is collected from children and how that data is then used by web sites. COPPA is, as I said above, all about data collection practices, not about whether content is targeted towards children.

Let’s understand that in the visual entertainment area, there are already ratings systems which apply. Systems such as the ESRB ratings system founded in 1994. This system specifically sets ratings for video games depending on the types of content contained within. For TV shows, there is the TV Parental Guidelines which began in 1996 and was proposed between the US Congress, the TV industry and FCC. These guidelines rate TV shows such as TV-Y, TV-14 or TV-MA depending, again, on the content within. This was mandated in 1997 by the US Government due to its stranglehold on TV broadcast licenses. For theatrical films, there’s the MPAA’s movie ratings system which began in 1968. So, it’s not as if there aren’t already effective content ratings systems available. These voluntary systems have been in place for many years already.

For YouTube, marking your channel or video content as “made for kids” has nothing whatever to do with COPPA legislated data collection practices.

YouTube Creators

Here is exactly where we see Google and YouTube’s fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA. COPPA is about the protection and collection of data from children. Google collects, stores and uses this and all data it collects. YouTube creators have very, very limited access to any of this Google-collected data. YouTube creators have no hand in its collection or its use. Google controls all of the data collection on YouTube. With the exception of comments and the list of subscribers of a channel, the majority of the data collected and supplied by Google to the creators is almost exclusively limited to aggregate unpersonalized statistical data. Even then, this data can be inaccurate depending on what the Google account ID stated when they signed up. Still, the limited personal subscriber data it does supply to content creators is limited to the subscriber’s ID only. Google offers its content creators no access to deeper personal data, not even the age of its subscribers.

Further, Google (and pretty much every other web site) relies on truthfulness when people sign up for services. Google does not in any way verify the information given to Google during the signup process or that this information is in any way accurate or truthful. Indeed, Google doesn’t even verify the identity of the person using the account or even require the use of real names. The only time Google does ANY level of identity verification is when using Google Wallet. Even then, it’s only as a result of needing identity verification due to possible credit card fraud issues. Google Wallet is a pointless service that many other payment systems do better, such as Apple Pay, Amazon Checkout and, yes, PayPal. I digress.

With that said, Google is solely responsible for all data collection practices associated with YouTube (and its other properties) including storing, processing and managing of that data. YouTube creators have no control over what YouTube (or Google) chooses to collect, store or disseminate. Indeed, YouTube creators have no control over YouTube’s data collection or storage practices whatsoever.

This new alleged “COPPA mechanism” that YouTube has implemented has nothing whatever to do with data collection practices and everything to do with content which might be targeted towards “children”. Right now, this limited mechanism is pretty much a binary system (a very limited system). The channel either does or it doesn’t target content towards children (either channel as a whole or video by video). It’s entirely unclear what happens when you do or don’t via YouTube, though some creators have had seeming bad luck with their content, which has been manually reviewed by YouTube staff and misclassified as “for children” when the content clearly is not. These manual overrides have even run counter to the global channel settings, which have been set to “No, set this channel as not made for kids.”

Clearly, this new mechanism has nothing to do with data collection and everything to do with classifying which content is suitable for children and which isn’t. This defines a …

Ratings System

Ratings systems in entertainment content are nothing new. TV has had a content rating systems since the mid 90s. Movies have had ratings systems since the late 60s. Video games have had them since the mid 90s. COPPA, on the other hand, has entirely nothing to do with ratings or content. It is legislation that protects children by protecting their data. It’s pretty straightforward what COPPA covers, but one thing it does not cover is whether video content is appropriate to be viewed by children. Indeed, COPPA isn’t a ratings system. It is child data protection legislation.

How YouTube got this law’s interpretation so entirely wrong is anyone’s guess. I can’t even fathom how Google could have been led this astray. Perhaps Google’s very own lawyers are simply inept and not at all versed in COPPA? I have no idea… but whatever led YouTube’s developers to thinking the above mechanism in any way relates to COPPA is entirely wrong thinking. No where does COPPA legislate YouTube video content appropriateness. Categorizing content is entirely up to a ratings system to handle.

Indeed, YouTube is trudging on very thin ice with the FTC. Not only did they interpret the COPPA legislation completely wrong, they have implemented “a fix” even more wrongly. What Google and YouTube has done is shoot themselves in the foot… not once, but twice. The second time is that Google has fully admitted that they don’t even have a functional working ratings system. Indeed, it doesn’t… and now everyone knows it.

Google has now additionally admitted that children under the age of 13 use YouTube by the addition of this “new” mechanism. With this one mechanism, Google has admitted to many things about children using its platform… which means YouTube and Google are both now in the hot seat with regards to COPPA. They must now completely ensure that YouTube (and Google by extension) is fully and solely complying with the letter of COPPA’s verbiage by collecting children’s data.

YouTube Creators Part II

YouTube creators have no control over what Google collects from its users, that’s crystal clear. YouTube creators also don’t have access to view most of this data or access to modify anything related to this data collection system. Only Google has that level of access. Because Google controls its own data collection practices, it is on Google to protect any personal information it may have received by children using its platform.

That also means that content creators should be entirely immune from prosecution over such data collection practices… after all, the creators don’t own or control Google’s data collection systems.

This new YouTube mechanism seems to imply that creators have some level of liability and/or culpability for Google’s collection practices, when creators simply and clearly do not. Even the FTC made a striking statement that they may try to “go after” content creators. I’m not even sure how that’s possible under COPPA. Content creators don’t collect, store or manage data about children, regardless of the content that they create. The only thing content creators control is appropriateness of the content towards children… and that has nothing to do with COPPA and everything to do with a ratings system… a system that Google does not even have in place within YouTube.

Content creators, however, can voluntarily label their content as TV-MA or whatever they deem is appropriate based on the TV Parental Guidelines. After all, YouTube is more like TV than it is like a video game. Therefore, YouTube should offer and have in place the same ratings system as is listed in the TV Parental Guidelines. This recent COPPA-attributed change is actually YouTube’s efforts at enacting a content ratings system, albeit an extremely poor attempt at one. As I said, creators can only specify the age appropriateness of the content that they create. YouTube is simply the platform where it is shown.

FTC going after YouTube Creators?

Google controls its data collections systems, not its content creators (though YouTube does hold leverage over whether content is or remains monetized). What that means is that it makes absolutely no sense for the FTC to legally go after content creators based on violations of COPPA. There may be other legislation they can lean on, but COPPA isn’t it. COPPA also isn’t intended to be a “catch all” piece of legislation to protect children’s behaviors on the Internet. It is intended to protect how data is collected and used by children under 13 years of age… that’s it. COPPA isn’t intended to be used as a “ratings system” for appropriateness by video sharing platforms like YouTube.

I can’t see even one judge accepting, let alone prosecuting such a clear cut case of legal abuse of the justice system. Going after Google for COPPA violations? Sure. They stored and collected that data. Going after the YouTube content creators? No, I don’t think so. They created a video and uploaded it, but that had nothing whatever to do with how Google controls, manages or collects data from children.

If the US Federal Government wants to create law to manage appropriateness of Internet content, then they need to draft it up and pass it. COPPA isn’t intended for that purpose. Voluntary ratings systems have been in place for years including within motion pictures, TV and now video games. So then why is YouTube immune from such rating systems? Indeed, it’s time YouTube was forced to implement a proper ratings system instead of this haphazard binary system under the false guise of COPPA.

Content Creator Advice

If you are a YouTube content creator (or create on any other online platform), you should take advantage of the thumbnail and describe the audience your content targets. The easiest way to do this is to use the same ratings system implemented by the TV Parental Guidance system… such as TV-Y, TV-14 and TV-MA. Placing this information firmly on the thumbnail and also placing it onto the video at the beginning of your video explicitly states towards which age group and audience your content is targeted. By voluntarily rating not only the thumbnail, but also the content itself in the first 5 minutes of the video opening, your video cannot be misconstrued for any other group or audience. This means that even though your video is not intended for children, placing the TV Parental Guidance rating literally onto the video intentionally states that fact in plain sight.

If a YouTube employee manually reclassifies your video as being “for children” even when it isn’t, labeling your content in the video’s opening as TV-MA explicitly states that the program is not suitable for children. You might even create an additional disclaimer as some TV programs do stating:

This content is not suitable for all audiences. Some content may be considered disturbing or controversial. Viewer or parental discretion is advised.

Labeling your video means that even the FTC can’t argue that your video somehow inappropriately targeted children… even though this new YouTube system has nothing to do with COPPA. Be cautious, use common sense and use best practices when creating and uploading videos to YouTube. YouTube isn’t there to protect you, the creator. The site is there to protect YouTube and Google. In this case, this new creator feature is entirely misguided as a COPPA helper, when it is clearly intended to be a ratings system.

Before you go…

One last thing… Google controls everything about the YouTube platform including the “recommended” lists of videos. If, for whatever reason, Google chooses to promote a specific video towards an unintended audience, the YouTube creator has no control over this fact. In point of fact, the content creator has almost no control over any promotion or placement of their video within YouTube. The only exception is if YouTube allows for paid promotion of video content (and they probably do). After all, YouTube is in it for the $$$. If you’re willing to throw some of your money at Google, I’m quite sure they’d be willing to help you out. Short of paying Google for video placement, however, all non-paid placement is entirely at the sole discretion of Google. The YouTube creator has no control over their video’s placement within “recommended” lists or anywhere else on YouTube.

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What’s wrong with Quora?

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on July 28, 2019

QuoraYou might be asking, “What is Quora?” We’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s explore the problems with Quora.

Questions and Answers

Before we get into Quora, let’s start by talking about Google. Many people seek answers from Google for many different questions. In fact, questions are the number one use for Google. You don’t go to Google to seek answers you already know. You go there to search (or question) things you don’t know. Such questions might include:

  • Where can I buy a toaster?
  • How long do I bake a chicken?
  • How do I make Quesadillas?
  • What’s the value of my 1974 Pontiac T-Bird?

These are full text questions. And yes, Google does support asking questions in long form such as these above. You can also search Google by using short key words, such as “toastmaster toaster” or “pontiac t-bird” (no, you don’t even need to use the proper case).

These short form questions are solely for use at search engines. When seeking answers to long form questions both Google and other sites can offer responses to your questions. One such site is Quora. Another is Yahoo Answers (a much older platform). Even Google got in on this action with Google Questions and Answers.

Quora

Quora is a recent incarnation of the older Yahoo Answers platform. Even before Yahoo Answers, there was Ask Jeeves. Even Epinions, a product review site (defunct as of 2018), had many answers to many questions. Epinions, in fact, opens a bigger discussion around site closures and content… but that’s a discussion for another article.

The real question (ahem) is whether sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora provide valuable answers or whether they simply usurp Google’s ability to answer questions in more trusted ways. I’m on the fence as to this question’s answer. Let me explain more about Quora to understand why I feel this way.

Quora is a crowdsourced product. By that I mean that both questions and answers are driven by crowds of subscribers. Not by Quora staff or, indeed, Quora at all. Unlike Wikipedia which has many volunteers who constantly proof, correct and improve articles to make Wikipedia a trustworthy information source, Quora offers nothing but the weakest of moderation. In fact, the only moderation Quora offers is both removal of answers and banning of accounts.

Quora has no live people out there reviewing questions and answers for either grammar and mechanics, nor trustworthiness. No one questions whether an answer is valid, useful or indeed even correct. Quora doesn’t even require its answer authors to cite sources or in any way validate what they have written. In fact, Quora’s moderation system is so broken that when answer authors do cite sources, their answer might be flagged and removed as ‘spam’. Yes, the very inclusion of web site links can and will cause answers to be marked as spam and removed from the site. Quora’s insane rationale is that if there’s a web link, it must be pointing to a site owned by the answer author and in which the answer author is attempting to advertise. This stupid and undermining rationale is applied by bots who neither read the content they review nor do they understand that the answer author can’t possibly own Wikipedia.com, Amazon.com or eBay.com.

Indeed, Quora’s moderation is so bare bones basic and broken, it undermines Quora’s own trustworthiness so much so that when you read an answer on Quora, you must always question the answer author’s reputation. Even then, because Quora’s verification and reputation system is non-existent, you can never know if the person is who they say they are. But, this is just the tip of the troubles at Quora.

Quora’s Real Problems

Trustworthiness is something every information site must address. It must address it in concrete and useful ways, ways that subscribers can easily get really fast. Wikipedia has addressed its trust issues by a fleet of moderators who constantly comb Wikipedia and who question every article and every statement in each article. Even with a fleet of moderators, incorrect information can creep in. Within a day or two, that information will either be corrected or removed. Wikipedia has very stringent rules around the addition and verification of information.

Twitter offers a verification system so that celebrities and people of note can send information to Twitter to verify who they say they are to Twitter staff. You’ll notice these as little blue check mark’s by the Twitter subscriber’s name. These check marks validate the person as legitimate and not a fake.

Quora, on the other hand, has no such rules or validation systems at all. In fact, Quora’s terms of service are all primarily designed around “behaving nicely” with no rules around validation of content or of authors. Indeed, Quora offers no terms that address trust or truth of the information provided. Far too many times, authors use Quora as a way of writing fanciful fiction. Worse, Quora does nothing to address this problem. They’re too worried about “spam” links than about whether an answer to a question is valid or trustworthy.

Yet, Quora continually usurps Google’s search by placing its questions (and answers implicitly) at the top of the search results. I question the value in Quora for this. It’s fine if Quora’s answers appear in search towards the bottom of the page, but they should NEVER appear at the number 1 position. This is primarily a Google problem. That Google chooses to promote untrustworthy sites at the top of its search results is something that Google most definitely needs to address. Sure, it is a problem for Quora, but it’s likewise a problem for Google.

Google purports to want to maintain “safety” and “trustworthiness” in its search by not leading you to malicious sites and by, instead, leading you to trustworthy sites. Yet, it plops Quora’s sometimes malicious answers at the top of its search results. Google needs to begin rating sites for trustworthiness and it should then push search results to appropriate levels based on that level of trust. Google needs to insist that sites like Quora, which provide consumers with actionable information, must maintain a certain level of trust to maintain high search rankings. Quora having its question results appear in the top 3 positions of the first page of Google search based entirely on weak trustworthiness is completely problematic.

Wikipedia strives to make its site trustworthy… that what you read is, indeed, valuable, valid and truthful information. Quora, on the other hand, makes absolutely no effort to ensure its answers are valid, trustworthy or, indeed, even truthful. You could ask Google for the answer to a question. You might see Quora’s results at the top of Google’s results and click it. Google placing such sites in the top 3 positions implies an automatic level of trust. That the sites that appear in the first 3 results are there because they ARE trustworthy. This implicit trust is entirely misplaced. Google doesn’t, in fact, place sites in the top of its search because they are trustworthy. It places them there because of “popularity”.

You simply can’t jump to this “trustworthiness” conclusion when viewing Google search results. The only thing you can glean from a site appearing in Google results is that it is not going to infect your computer with a virus. Otherwise, Google places any site at the top of its ranking when Google decides to rank in that position. As I said, you should never read any implicit level of trust into sites which appear in the first 3 positions of Google search. Quora proves this out. Quora’s entire lack of trustworthiness of information means that Google is not, in any way, looking out for your best interests. They are looking out for Quora, not you. Quora’s questions sometimes even rank higher than Wikipedia.

Quora’s Answers

With that said, let’s delve deeper into the problem with Quora’s answers. If you’ve ever written an answer on Quora, then you’ll fully understand what I’m about to say. Quora’s terms of service are, in fact, counter to producing trustworthy answers. Unlike news sites like CNN, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times, where journalistic integrity is the key driving force, Quora ensures none of this. Sure, Quora’s answer editor tool does offer the ability to insert quotes and references, but doing so can easily mark your answer as ‘spam’.

In fact, I’ve had 2 or 3 year old Quora answers marked as ‘spam’ and removed from view because of the inclusion of a link to an external and reputable web site. Quora cites violation of terms for this when, in fact, no such violation exists. The author is then required to spend time appealing this “decision”.

Instead, its bots will remove reviews from its site based entirely upon reports by users. If a user doesn’t like the answer, they can report the review and the review bot will then take the answer down and place it under moderation appeal. There is no manual review by actual Quora staff to check the bot’s work. This work is all done by robots. Robots that can be gamed and sabotaged by irate, irrational, upset users who have a vendetta against other Quorans.

The answer takedowns are never in the interest of trust or making Quora more trustworthy, but are always in the interest of siding with the reporting user who has a vendetta or is simply insane. Users have even learned that they can game Quora’s robots to have answers removed without valid reasons or, indeed, no reasons at all. There’s no check and balance with the moderation robots or takedown requests. Quora receives a report, the answer is summarily removed.

Unfortunately, this is the tip of a much larger Quora iceberg. Let’s continue.

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

All of the above leads to an even bigger problem. Instead of Quora spending its development time attempting to shore up its level of site trust, it instead spends its time creating questionable programs like the Partner Program. A program that, in one idea, sums up everything wrong with Quora.

What is the Partner Program? I’ll get to that in a moment. What the Partner Program ultimately is to Quora is an albatross. Or, more specifically, it will likely become Quora’s downfall. This program solidifies everything I’ve said above and, simultaneously, illustrates Quora’s lack of understanding of its very own platform. Quora doesn’t “get” why a question and answer platform is important.

Which is more important to Quora? They answered this question (ha, see what I did there?) by making the question more important than the answer.

That’s right. The Partner Program rewards people monetarily who ask questions, NOT by rewarding the people who spend the lion’s share of their time writing thoughtful, truthful, trustworthy answers. In effect, Quora has told answer authors that their answers don’t matter. You can write a two sentence answer and it would make no difference. Yes, let’s reward the people who spend 5 minutes writing a 5-10 word sentence… not the people who spend an hour or two crafting trustworthy answers. And this is Quora’s problem in a nutshell.

Worse, it’s not the questions that draw people in to Quora. Yes, the question may be the ‘search terms’, but it’s not why people end up on Quora. The question leads people in, it’s the ANSWER that keeps them there. It’s the answers that people spend their time reading, not the questions.

This is the iceberg that Quora doesn’t get nor do they even understand. The questions are stubs. The questions are merely the arrow pointing the way. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The questions are not the reason people visit Quora.

By producing the Partner Program, Quora has flipped the answer authors the proverbial middle finger.finger-512If you’re a Quora answer author, you should definitely consider the Partner Program as insulting. Quora has effectively told the answer authors, “Your answers are worthless. Only questions have monetary value.” Yes, let’s reward the question writers who’ve spent perhaps less than 5 minutes devising a sentence. Let’s completely ignore the answer authors who have spent sometimes hours or days crafting their words, researching those words for clarity and truthfulness and ensuring trust in each detailed answer.

It’s not the questions that draw people in, Quora staff. People visit Quora for the answers. Without thoughtful answers, there is absolutely no reason to visit Quora.

Indeed, Quora’s thinking is completely backasswards, foolish and clownish. It shows just how much a clown outfit Quora really is. Seriously, placing value on the questions at the expense of answer authors who spend hours crafting detailed answers is the very definition of clownish. That situation would be synonymous to The Washington Post or The New York Times valuing and paying readers to leave comments and then asking their journalists to spend their own time and money writing and researching their articles, only to give the article to the newspaper for free. How many journalists would have ever become journalists knowing this business model?

Qlowns

Whomever at Quora dreamed up this clownish idea should be summarily walked to the door. Dissing and dismissing the very lifeblood of your site, the actual question authors, is just intensely one of the most stupid and insane things I’ve seen a site do in its life.

Not only is the very concept of the partner program qlownish, not only does it completely dissuade authors from participating in Quora, not only does is it completely backwards thinking, not only does it reward question authors (which honestly makes no sense at all), this program does nothing to establish trust or indeed, does nothing to put forth any journalistic integrity.

Instead, Quora needs to ditch the question Partner Program and fast. It needs to quickly establish a system that not only rewards the best answer authors, it needs to enforce journalistic integrity on EVERY ANSWER. It needs to implement a validation system to ensure that authors are who they say they are. It needs to make certain that every answer author understands that they are in every real sense a ‘journalist’. And, as a journalist, they should uphold journalistic integrity. That integrity means properly researching sources and properly citing those sources. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it means that Quora’s answers will become trustworthy sources of information.

Right now, the answer authors are mostly random and low quality. In fact, most answers are of such low quality that you simply can’t trust anything found on Quora. Since Quora does not enforce any level of journalistic standards on the answers, there is no way anyone reading Quora should trust what any answer author writes. An answer may seem detailed, but in some cases they are pure fiction. No one at Quora ensures that answers in any way uphold any level of journalistic integrity (there’s that phrase again). It’s an important phrase when you’re writing something that people rely on.

Making a statement of fact for something that seems questionable needs to be cited with a source of reference. Show that at least one other reputable source agrees with your “facts”. That doesn’t mean that that “fact” is true. It’s easy for other reputable sites to be fooled by tricksters. This is why it’s important to cite several reputable sources which agree with your facts. I don’t want to dive deep into the topic of journalistic integrity or what it takes to validate sources, so I’ll leave this one here. This article is about Quora’s inability to uphold journalistic integrity.

Quora’s Backward Thinking

Indeed, the Partner Program’s existence confirms that Quora’s site importance is the opposite of journalistic integrity. Quora’s team values only the questions and the question writers. They do not, in any way, value the journalistic integrity required to write a solid, trustworthy answer. Questions are mere tools. They do not at all imply any level of trust. Here’s another analogy that might make more sense.

A question is simply the key to open a lock. A key is a tool and nothing more. You pay for the lock and key together. You don’t pay only for a key. Paying for a key without a lock means you don’t value (or indeed) even need a lock. You can’t lock anything with only a key. The two are a pair and they both go hand-in-hand. If you lose the key, you can’t open the lock. If you lose the lock, they key has no value. However, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace the lock. This shows you the value of a ‘key’ alone.

Because Quora chooses to place value only the key and not on the lock, they have entirely lost the ability to protect Quora’s reputation and credibility. Indeed, Quora’s credibility was already in jeopardy before the Partner Program was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. With the Partner Program, Quora has solidified its lack of credibility. Quora has officially demonstrated that it is committed to valuing and paying only for keys and never paying for locks to go with those keys. That means the locks will be the weakest, most flimsiest pieces of junk to ever exist… indeed, the locks won’t even exist.

When you’re trying to secure something, you want the strongest, most durable, most rugged, most secure lock you can afford. You don’t care about the key other than as a the means of opening and securing a lock. Sure, you want the key to be durable and rugged, but a key is a key. There’s nothing so magical about a key that you’d be willing the shell out big bucks solely for a key. You always expect a lock and key to go together. You expect to buy both and you expect them both to work as a cohesive whole. If the key fails, the lock is worthless. If the lock is breakable, then the key is worthless. A lock and key are the very definition of a synergistic relationship. In the lock and key relationship, both have equal importance to the relationship. However, the lock itself is viewed by most people as the most important piece. Locks, however, become unimportant if they can’t secure the belongings they are entrusted to protect. Yes, you do need both the key and the lock for the system to function as a whole.

Likewise, Quora needs both the question and answer to function as a cohesive whole. In the synergistic relationship between the question and an answer, neither is more important in this synergy. Of the two, however, like the lock mechanism, the answer is the most important to the end user because it is what imparts the most information to the reader. It is what must be trustworthy. It is what must contain the information needed to answer the question. The question then holds the same functionality as a key. In fact, it is very much considered a key to Google. That’s why they’re called ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Using the word ‘key’ when in relation to a search engine is intended to be very much synonymous with a real life key you attach to a key ring. A keyword unlocks the data you need.

Valuing both the Lock and Key

Quora needs a rethink. If there’s any value to be held on data, both the key and the lock, or more specifically the question and answer, need to be valued as a cohesive whole. If you value the question, then you must also value the answer(s). This means revenue sharing. The question author will then receive the equivalent % of revenue that each answer author receives based on work involved. Since a sentence might take you 5 minutes to write and requires no trustworthiness at all, the maximum value a question author might receive would be no more than 10%. The remaining 90% of the revenue would be issued to the answer authors based on traffic driven to the site.

Let’s say that $100 in revenue is driven to that Q&A for the first month. $10 is given to the question asker… always 10% of total revenue. That’s probably a little on the high side, but the question asker did kick the whole process off.

Now, let’s say 3 answers are submitted for the question. Let’s assume all 3 answer authors are participating in the revenue program. The remaining $90 is then spread among the 3 answer authors based on total views. Likes might pump up the percentage by a small percentage. If one answer is fully detailed and receives 2.5k views in 30 days and the remaining two answers receive 500 views each, then the 2.5k views answer author would receive at least 72% of the remaining revenue (2.5k + 1k = 3.5k). 2.5k is ~72% of 3.5k. This means this author would receive 72% of the remaining $90 or a total of $65. The remaining $15 would be split between the other two authors. The more participating authors, the less money to go around per answer. Questions that receive perhaps 200 answers might see only a few dollars of revenue per author.

There must also be some guidelines around answers for this to work. Answer authors must be invited to participate in the program. If the answer author isn’t invited and hasn’t agreed to terms, no revenue is shared. Also, one word, one sentence and off-topic answers disqualify the answer from sharing in revenue. Additionally, to remain in the revenue program, the answer author must agree to write solid, on-topic, properly structured, fully researched and cited answers. If an invited author attempts to game the system by producing inappropriate answers to gain revenue, the author will be disqualified from the program with any further ability to participate. Basically, you risk involvement in the revenue sharing by attempting to game it.

This math incentivizes not only quality questions, but also quality answers. The better an answer is, the more views it is likely to receive. More views means more revenue. The better and clearer the answer, the more likely the author is to not only be asked to participate in the revenue sharing program, the more likely they are to receive a higher share of that revenue. The best answers should always be awarded the highest amounts of revenue possible.

Google vs Quora

As I postulated early in the article, does Quora actually hold any value as a site or does it merely usurp Google’s search results? This is a very good question, one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. For me, I find that Quora’s current answers range from occasionally and rarely very high quality to, mostly, junky worthless answers. This junky aspect of Quora leads me towards Quora being a Google usurper. In other words, most of Quora’s results in Google are trash clogging up the search results. They shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, Google returns all results in a search whether high or low quality. Google does offer some limited protection mechanisms to prevent malicious sites from appearing in results. But, Google’s definition of the word ‘malicious’ can be different than mine in many cases. Simply because someone can put up a web site with random information doesn’t automatically make that site valuable. Value comes from continually providing high quality information on an ongoing basis… the very definition of professional journalism. Now we’re back to journalistic integrity. We’ve come full circle.

Unfortunately, because of Quora’s lack of insistence on journalistic integrity, I find Quora to be nothing more than a mere novelty… no better than TMZ or the National Enquirer. I’m not saying TMZ doesn’t have journalists. They do. But, a rag is always a rag. Any newspaper dishing dirt on people I always consider the bottom feeders of journalism… the very dreckiest of tabloid journalism. This type of journalism is the kind of trash that has kept the National Enquirer and other tabloids in business for many, many years. It’s sensational journalism at its finest (or worst). Sure, these writers might aspire to be true journalists some day, but they’ll never find reputable journalistic employment dishing dirt on celebrities or fabricating fiction (unless they begin writing fiction novels).

Unfortunately, many of Quora’s answers fall well below even the standards established by the dreckiest of tabloids. The one and only one thing tabloids and Quora have in common is fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction on Quora isn’t even that entertaining. It’s occasionally amusing, but most of it is tedious and cliché at its most common. Think of the worst movie you’ve watched, then realize that most of these Quora fiction “stories” are even less entertaining than that. There may be a few gems here and there (probably written by professional writers simply exercising their chops on Quora), but most of it is not worth reading.

Worse, the trust level of what’s written is so low (regardless of purported “credentials”), there’s nothing on Quora worth extending a level of trust. Reading Quora for sheer entertainment value, perhaps that can be justified a little. Even then, most answers fall way short of having even entertainment value. Even the worst YouTube videos have more entertainment value. Full levels of trust? No way. Quora has in no way earned that.

Seeking Answers

Yes, we all need questions answered, occasionally. We all need to seek advice, occasionally. Yes, I’m even seeking to answer the question, “What’s wrong with Quora?” Of course, don’t expect to read any answers like THIS on Quora. Oh, no no no. Quora is very, very diligent at removing anything it deems to be anti-Quora in sentiment, such at this article. Anyway, if you choose to seek out Quora for this kind of information, Quora’s immediately problems become your problem. Considering all of the above, Quora is probably one of the worst ways of getting information. Not only can you be easily deceived by an answer author, you can be taken for a ride down Scam Lane. Trust advice from Quora with the same level of acceptance as you would from a 6 year old child. I’m not saying there are 6 year old children on Quora, but Quora certainly acts like one. Seeking Quora for advice means you could, in fact, be taking advice from 13 year old via a Barbie encrusted iPad.

Should I write for Quora?

I’m sure this is the question you are now contemplating after having read this article. This is a question that only you can answer. However, let me leave you with these thoughts. When you write answers for Quora under the current Partner Program, you are doing so for free. Yet, question authors are being paid for YOUR effort, answer and research. You spend the time, THEY get the dime. It’s an entirely unfair arrangement.

To answer this question more definitively… I personally won’t write any future answers for Quora. Quora currently relies on each answer author’s thoughtful, researched answers to make its a success (and bring in ad dollars). If you do not like this turn of events with the Partner Program, say, “NO” and do not write for Quora.

If enough answer authors stop 🛑 writing for Quora, the questions writers can’t and won’t be paid. This will have Quora scrambling for a new fairer equity system. If you are just as disgusted by Quora’s Partner Program as I am, then walk way from Quora and no longer write answers. I have stopped writing answers and will no longer write any further answers for the site until they come to their senses and compensate both question writers and answer writers equally in a profit sharing arrangement.

↩︎

Rant Time: Pinterest

Posted in botch, business, Random Thoughts, rant, reviews, social media by commorancy on June 30, 2019

pinterestPinterest is an image sharing platform using image ‘pins’, which should be interesting. After all, the word “interest” is in its name. You would think that before releasing a platform designed around relevance, the Pinterest team could actually design an engine capable of producing relevant and interesting images. NOT! Pinterest is one of the worst, if not THE worst platform, at displaying relevant ‘pins’ in your feed, not that Tumblr and Instagram are much better at this. Let’s explore.

Search Interests

One of the things that has vexed developers for a long time is how to show you stuff that’s actually interesting and, more importantly, relevant to you. Amazon and Google have done a decent, albeit not any anywhere near perfect, job of implementing such search heuristics, where the results actually offer some measure of interest and relevance to you based on the data they know about you.

This data collection, storage and mining issue is currently a point of privacy contention among many and is even in the news, but ‘search history’ is the primary means of showing you “stuff” that is actually of personal interest. The secondary method, which is less creepy and at least a bit more tolerable, is asking you directly for categories you’re interested in (i.e., sports, fashion, music, your age, single/married, kids, etc). Still, your search history actually contains the most relevant information about you as it’s recent and current. Unlike family relationships that can change (kids grow up, couples separate, graduate from college, move, get remarried, etc), search history implies a lot about your current situation and is way more up-to-date than explicitly given data that gets old even just a month or two after it’s given. Explicit offered data can even be based on lies, because some people roll that way.

As an example of recent search history, searching about baby related stuff (cribs, clothing, formula, diapers) might yield ads from Amazon, Target or Walmart selling baby goods. It only makes sense… and this is an example of ‘relevance targeting’. That is, targeting you with images or ads you have searched for in the recent past. Same for searching for wedding, bridal or other similar information. Same for searching for car buying. Search history is ‘in the now’ information that is clearly relevant to you “right now”. The “right now” portion of search relevance is key to a great relevance engine and to ad targeting.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if you share a computer with multiple people; for example, you might have a family of four or have roommates in your dorm. In cases like these, your daughter might have searched for Barbie dolls and now you have a bunch of irrelevant (to you) stuff related to Barbie or toys or kid related items. The search engine simply can’t recognize who is at the keyboard. It currently can only attribute search results to a specific computer. Until search engines can identify who is at the keyboard with each search (i.e., facial or voice recognition), engines must identify based only on the computer itself (a limited recognition system). This is the reason voice assistants like “Ok, Google”, Alexa, Siri and Cortana are so important. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these assistants yet identify the voice itself. They only recognize the words spoken and translate that into text search.

Search relevance definitely isn’t perfect much of the time and doesn’t work at all when using a shared device. Using a shared device, I do get why ‘relevant ad targeting’ doesn’t work. However, if your device is solely used by you, then relevance targeting should work perfectly… or at least as perfectly as today’s targeting algorithms allow. Yet, for Pinterest, it doesn’t.

Pinterest’s Targeting Engine

Why discuss the above? Let’s illustrate exactly how Amazon and Google work ad targeting relevance. If you’ve searched for “men’s clothing” in the recent past, then Google and Amazon will insert these kinds of items into your ‘feed’. A feed is basically a place on the screen where ‘Recommended for you’ stuff appears.

Pinterest doesn’t use a ‘Recommended’ area, instead choosing to intermix it all together in one immediate and immense jumbled mess. If any dictionary needs an example for ‘cluttered’, Pinterest certainly works.

[RANT ON]

Like bread falling butter side down, so this rant begins. Pinterest has one of the worst designed, most sloppy, most cluttered, most inaccurate relevance engines in existence. In fact, I don’t even think Pinterest has a relevance engine. They seem to vomit up all random irrelevant garbage into your Pinterest feed based on who knows what criteria.

Worse, they then attribute that random spewed garbage to being ‘Inspired by’ (a form of ‘Recommend’) to a board you’ve created. I’m sorry. Wait.. what, Pinterest? How does a picture of a baby in a carryall at all relate to men’s fitness? Seriously, I’m a single guy. I am not currently in a relationship. How does a picture of a baby at all interest me or, more specifically, how does that picture of a baby relate to body fitness? Clearly, a baby is not the definition of ‘fitness’. That is, unless Pinterest is actually trying to promote pedophilia?!?

Worse, I also see pictures of fat hipped women that claim to be ‘Inspired By’ a board on men’s bodybuilding and fitness (no women in that board at all). I also see women’s hair styles flooding my feed claiming to be ‘Inspired by’ a board on men’s underwear. I see pins of women in wedding dresses. I see pins of women’s high heeled shoes. I see women wearing random fingernail polish and acrylic nails. These are entirely fashion related and I have not a single board or pin devoted to women, women’s fashion or, indeed, women’s anything. Not a single board. How can you possibly claim attribution of these completely random images to any board in my account?

I’m not against any of these topics. If I want to see them, I’ll go search for them and look at whatever pins are there by searching. However, I DON’T want them in my Pinterest feed. These pins have no place there.

It Gets Worse

From here, Pinterest’s relevance goes into the toilet (literally… yes, bathroom cleaners are there too). I get that Pinterest might think a single guy might have some interest in looking at the female form dressed or coiffed nicely. But, even if that’s true (and in my case it isn’t, at least I don’t want it in my feed), Pinterest insists on throwing all manner of completely irrelevant garbage into my feed.

It’s not simply limited to arbitrary women’s fashion, oh no no no, my reader friends. Pinterest insists on throwing Arabic writing into my feed… a language I not only cannot read, I also have no interest in. I’m sure that whatever is written there is fascinating, too bad it’s wasted on me by throwing it into my feed, an English speaking person.

It gets worse. For at least six months (maybe longer), my feed was entirely littered with page after page of all manner of tattooed body parts… just the parts. These included ankles, wrists, shoulders, backs, butts and torsos. Sometimes the tattooed body part is so close to the camera, I can’t even identify where it is. Worse, the tattoos are downright fugly. They looked like someone had done it themselves DIY at home. A few were professionally done, but many were so horrendous, who would even consider putting such a thing on their body? Anyway, I have no tattoos, have no interest in getting tattoos and don’t want to see tattooed body parts in my feed. I hadn’t searched for tattoos, so Pinterest didn’t get this ‘idea’ from my search history.

These tattoo body part pins were literally clogging up my feed. Nearly every image in my feed was of a body part. I might understand seeing a little of these images occasionally. As I said, it didn’t come from search. However, while I did have a fitness board that incidentally contained some men with tattoos, they were there because of their physique, not because of their tattoo. Pinterest doesn’t get it. It only saw a tattoo and then insisted that I might have some interest in tattooing my body… thus flooding my feed with body part after body part with UGLY tattoos. A completely wrong assumption, I might add.

Assumptions are, in fact, the prerequisite to search relevance. Unfortunately, Pinterest’s assumption engine is entirely wrong nearly 100% of the time. Just because an image contains a tattoo on someone’s shoulder, you can’t assume that to mean I want to tattoo my body and need help by flooding my feed with tattooed body parts. Wrong assumption, wrong results… or as the older computer adage goes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”

Pinterest Janitor

Here’s where it turns REALLY ugly. To clean up my feed, I had to play janitor. First, I had to spent valuable time going into all of my boards and clearing out ALL pins that had ANY tattoos in the image. Just gone… out of there. That helped a little, but only a tiny amount. It only helped a little because Pinterest’s engine had already ‘learned’ this ‘interest’ based on an incorrect assumption. Unfortunately, ‘unlearning’ learned stuff can he incredibly difficult… and, in Pinterest’s case, it is! Second, I had to spent time going through each new “tattooed body part” pin appearing in my feed, then following that pin through to the original account who pinned it… and then, you guessed it, block the account. That all sounds easy enough, but because of the way Pinterest works, it’s actually quite time consuming jumping from page to page and waiting for Pinterest to refresh each super long, image laden page.

I spent the better part of a week opening pins, going into accounts and blocking account after account after account. Blocking the account is the only way not to see these pins in the future (well, sort of… this is actually broken, too and I’ll discuss this next).

You’d think that a platform like Pinterest could figure out a way to wholesale remove an interest category from a feed… but you’d be wrong. Nope, there is no way to remove an interest (or should I say, exclude non-interests) from the feed. The only way to remove an interest is to, one by one, block the accounts producing the pins. It’s the only way. Even then, new accounts spawn all the time leading to brand new pins of the same old stuff recycled back into my feed… requiring even more blocking. It’s a never ending janitorial cycle.

Now, you might be asking, “Why not click the … (ellipsis) menu on the pin and report it?” I tried that. It doesn’t work. Reporting the pin as spam does nothing. The pins continue to show up. The only way to stop a pin is to block the account who pinned it. Even then, blocking an account has limited ability to even stop the problem…

When Blocking Doesn’t Work

You might think, once again, that blocking an account would block all pins by that account. Again, you’d be wrong. The only thing that blocking an account does is block pins created directly by that account. If a different unblocked account repins one of a blocked account’s pins, it can still end up in my feed. Repins via unblocked accounts allow pins through from accounts that are blocked. It’s not the pin that’s blocked, it’s the account. This is a huge heuristic mistake for a platform like Pinterest.

Even then, blocking an account doesn’t take effect immediately (or sometimes even at all). Pins that are already in your feed stay in your feed, even after you’ve blocked an account. I’ve blocked accounts and for several hours after continued to see that account’s pins in my feed after refreshing multiple times. A block seems to take up to 24 hours to actually take effect fully. Even then, I’m not entirely certain that blocking does much good because of repinning. Repinning is Pinterest’s version of Twitter’s retweet functionality. It allows any account to pin into their own account. Pinterest will then pull that pin out of that account and shove it into random people’s feed… even if the pin originated from a now blocked account.

Still, blocking an account doesn’t do anything to block Pinterest’s crap relevance engine. Even if I block account by account, Pinterest’s engine insists on filling my feed with all manner of random garbage similar to what was blocked.

Following Accounts

You would also think that by following other Pinterest accounts, Pinterest would be more inclined to show us pins by those accounts whom we follow. Again, you’d be wrong. While Pinterest does show pins by followed accounts in the feed, it also intermixes in accounts not being followed. In fact, I’d say that Pinterest tends to show more account pins not being followed than those who are being followed. Sometimes that may have to do with when those followed accounts are active.

For example, if your followed accounts haven’t been active in the last hour or two, then Pinterest still insists on filling your feed with pins (a feature that is entirely unnecessary). If those I’m following haven’t pinned recently, then show me a blank page. It’s fine if the page has no pins. I’d rather see no pins in my feed than a bunch of random garbage.

Anyway, when pins by accounts you are following don’t appear in the feed, it could simply mean they’re not pinning. Instead, your feed is being cluttered by extraneous random garbage. The trouble is, it is truly garbage and not at all relevant. The weird thing is, there is so much more relevant content on Pinterest that the engine never finds and places into my feed. I have to use Pinterest’s search panel to go find it. It’s this random irrelevant garbage that makes Pinterest completely worthless as a platform.

You’d assume that Pinterest would prioritize followed account pins over random pins, but again you’d be wrong. Pinterest has no interest in trying to make their engine more relevant. They’re simply interested in promoting random accounts’ pins into feeds, even when those pins make absolutely no sense for that particular user (i.e., image of babies shown to grown single men).

The Pinterest Idea

The idea behind the Pinterest platform has merit. Too bad Pinterest’s implementation is such absolute shit. Images can be incredibly powerful, particularly so when that image is actually of interest to the viewer. On the other hand, images shown to people who have absolutely no interest in that subject matter is a wasted opportunity to show much more relevant content.

Pinterest wastes its opportunities every single time you refresh the page. Instead of feeding me actual images of interest, I get images of high heel shoes, of wedding dresses, of women in wedding dresses, of women’s hair, of babies, of smokey eye makeup, of tattooed body parts. I even get images of dog food bowls, dog collars and of dogs. I don’t own a dog. I no have interests in any of that. Yet, image after image after image is shown. It’s entirely frustrating dealing with Pinterest’s garbage.

But, that’s not the problem. Pinterest gives us NO TOOLS to actually wholesale remove these uninteresting photos from our feed. We have to deal with them one by one. We have to block accounts one by one. Even after going through all of the hoop jumping of blocking and reporting and hiding, photos of similar content STILL appear in the feed… day after day. Sometimes even the same pin I’ve reported or hidden STILL appears.

Just when I think I’ve got a handle on my feed, Pinterest re-ups and I get a whole new wave of garbage in my feed. With Pinterest, you simply cannot win that battle of spam photos. It’s a trash platform designed to be trashy. I’m amazed that it even still exists. I’m even more amazed that anyone finds it useful.

The Pinterest Dilemma

And here we come to the point that matters most. This is why Pinterest fails. The platform fails because Pinterest attempts to ‘guess’ what it thinks you want to see. Instead of actually asking you explicitly for interest categories, it attempts to learn what you like by the pins you click on. Unfortunately, it goes even deeper than that. It learns what you like by what those whom you follow click on… and those whom they follow click on. It feeds crap to you based on the interests and clicks of others, not what you specifically click on. It assumes that because somewhere down the line, someone you follow clicks on pictures of babies, you must also want to see pictures of babies or a bridal dress. This “sixth degrees of separation” assumption is entirely wrong for a relevance engine and needs to be removed. Of course, Pinterest also makes wrong assumptions simply by reviewing your activity.

When reviewing your personal activity, Pinterest’s difficulty is, like the tattooed fitness guys, its engine guesses wrong nearly every time. Instead of Pinterest seeing a bodybuilder in a fitness pose with a great physique, Pinterest sees the image as simplistically as a “person with a tattoo”. It then makes the entirely wrong assumption that “tattoo in image = interest in tattoos”.  It’s a simplistic, unsophisticated kindergarten assumption. It’s such a basic assumption, only a child could actually jump to that conclusion. Even then, only a child would jump to that conclusion if the parent already had tattoos and invited over a bodybuilder with tattoos. Only then might a child associate tattoo interest.

Having a relevance platform make the wrong assumption and jump to the most wrong conclusion is actually the worst of all possible outcomes for a relevance engine. It then leads your entire results astray and leads to frustration by what’s presented… thus making the platform worthless. It also means that once your “learning” machine learns this entirely wrong data, it’s doubly difficult to “unlearn” it. As I said, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” In fact, Pinterest has no way to correct these completely incorrect assumptions its engine has made.

Pinterest could fix this by asking direct questions about pins to understand if the assumptions it has made about a specific pin is correct. If the assumption is incorrect, it can “unlearn” a learned assumption. Better, simply ask us what we want to see in our feed and exclude all else. Also, give us exclusion features. See a pin, click to exclude all similar pins from the feed. Even then, Pinterest still needs to get rid of its association algorithm where it associates “women in bridal outfits” or “babies in bassinets” or “doggie treats” with “men’s bodybuilding”… which is probably entirely attributed to its completely incorrect “six degrees of separation” relevance idea.

With all of that said, Pinterest does offer a mechanism to stop seeing pins “Inspired by”, but that’s a sledgehammer approach. Using that feature is all or nothing. It will stop the garbage, but it will also stop relevant pins. This feature is poorly designed and implemented. It’s the wrong approach for a relevance engine. Instead, as I said, as Pinterest users, we need exclusionary features that look at the image and exclude all like-kind images from the feed. Unfortunately, Pinterest just doesn’t get it!

[RANT OFF]

Since this is not only a rant and also doubles as a review of the Pinterest service, I rate Pinterest a solid 1.5 ★ out of 5. Pinterest, you seriously need to get your act together.

If you enjoy reading Randocity articles, please follow, like and share the article on your social media feeds. If you have had similar experiences with Pinterest, I’d like to hear your feedback via a comment below.

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