Sequential Voting Promotes Collective Discovery in Social Recommendation Systems

Elisa Celis, Peter Krafft, and Nathan Kobe. (2016). Sequential Voting Promotes Collective Discovery in Social Recommendation Systems. The Tenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM).


One goal of online social recommendation systems is to harness the wisdom of crowds in order to identify high quality content. Yet the sequential voting mechanisms that are commonly used by these systems are at odds with existing theoretical and empirical literature on optimal aggregation. This literature suggests that sequential voting will promote herding—the tendency for individuals to copy the decisions of others around them—and hence lead to suboptimal content recommendation. Is there a problem with our practice, or a problem with our theory? Previous attempts at answering this question have been limited by a lack of objective measurements of content quality. Quality is typically defined endogenously as the popularity of content in absence of social influence. The flaw of this metric is its presupposition that the preferences of the crowd are aligned with underlying quality. Domains in which content quality can be defined exogenously and measured objectively are thus needed in order to better assess the design choices of social recommendation systems. In this work, we look to the domain of education, where content quality can be measured via how well students are able to learn from the material presented to them. Through a behavioral experiment involving a simulated massive open online course (MOOC) run on Amazon Mechanical Turk, we show that sequential voting systems can surface better content than systems that elicit independent votes.

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