We all know that Netflix and Amazon use ratings to make recommendations.
Recommendations tap into the force that public relations counsels have been writing about—from Edward Bernays in the 1920s in his book Propaganda, through to Chris Anderson in his 2006 book, The Long Tail.
That is, we look to others whom we respect to guide us to what we want. And what we want is often a product of the groups with which we want to identify.
Opinion leaders, peer recommendation, group identification, tribes, niche markets, the wisdom of crowds—recommendations and ratings are the life blood of all of them.
Google depends on it; Amazon thrives on it.
An interesting point that Chris Anderson makes in The Long Tail is that eBay has a problem. It wants to recommend products to us, but the users define their own products when they write their ads. So eBay simply does not know what it is selling and so it cannot recommend the products for which it acts as middleman.
That insight into what eBay doesn’t have helps us get a clearer view of the power of recommendations and ratings.
Edward Bernays set himself up as a propaganda consultant or public relations counsel as he described himself in Propaganda, the book he wrote in 1928.
He was Freud’s nephew and because he was well connected he had access to the industrialists of the 1920s—with whom he found common ground. What is interesting is his view of the human condition.
Having seen the slaughter of the First World War, he believed that the majority of human beings had to be controlled and that without something to divert them they would, if given the excuse, tear each other limb from limb.
Bernays believed that the men follow leaders in different fields and that their sense of identity and identification with the leaders and the groups was generally more important than the underlying truth or falsity of what they believed as individuals.
Sometimes, without the group mind, the individual was lost.
Bernays believed that as a consequence, men would often rather sacrifice the truth than lose the fellowship of the group.
Therein lies the power of ratings and recommendations. The individual is not looking for the best book, film, or whatever. He or she is looking for the group.
Whoa! But not me. (Say we all.)
Originally published on David's blog no more pencils. Republished here with kind permission of the author.