Algorithm is a word that is used widely – but what does it mean?
Webster’s Dictionary defines it like this:
Full Definition of algorithm
: a procedure for solving a mathematical problem (as of finding the greatest common divisor) in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation; broadly: a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem or accomplishing some end especially by a computeralgorithmicˌal-gə-ˈrith-mik\adjectivealgorithmically \-mi-k(ə-)lē\adverb
An algorithm (pronounced AL-go-rith-um) is a procedure or formula for solving a problem. The word derives from the name of the mathematician, Mohammed ibn-Musa al-Khwarizmi, who was part of the royal court in Baghdad and who lived from about 780 to 850. Al-Khwarizmi’s work is the likely source for the word algebra as well.
If you would like to learn more about algorithms and their importance for computing I suggest watching this video:
[clickToTweet tweet=”This is certainly not a math blog 🙂 ” quote=”This is certainly not a math blog :-)”]
What do algorithms have to do with content marketing?
Aside from the obvious use in computing, algorithms are playing an increasingly important role in sorting the flood of information that is shared on social networks.
The most important one is used by Facebook to sort the posts by our friends and pages – sometimes called Edgerank. But more recently other social networking sites have followed suit with similar models. Even Instagram and Twitter have joined the algorithm game, much to the dismay of many users.
Before I explain algorithms further, let’s talk about why we need them:
Social Media has enabled us all to be broadcasters. In the beginning this was great and we could easily scan and sort the information that was shared with us.
Then came a time when we started to feel stressed by the number of new updates that flooded in. I remember teaching my Facebook students not to post more than once or twice a day in order not to overwhelm followers. When we did our Twitter chat #okchat we regularly got complaints from followers that our updates were all they could see.
In this current phase the typical Social Media user simply gets offered too many updates to comfortably sort out the noise. This matters because Social Media platforms (like search engines) are in competition. We will tend to use the platform that is the most comfortable to use.
But in this effort to sort the social web for us, the platforms and their algorithms are less than perfect. A mathematical formula can not totally replace the human mind. We get frustrated by updates we missed and often it seems like our updates get either drowned out by too much noise or suppressed by algorithms.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Algorithms are also manipulated to make more money but that’s a topic for another post.” quote=”Yes, algorithms are also manipulated to make more money but that’s a topic for another post.”]
Edgerank – the Facebook algorithm
Facebook was one of the first popular social networks that introduced an algorithm to sort the flood of information and they called it Edgerank.
[box]I wrote a post about Edgerank in 2012 that is still relevant[/box]
There are many factors in today’s algorithms that help sort out what we are supposed to see. And of course some of these are quite clearly geared to reach the social media company’s monetary goals.
Everything we do online can be tracked and analyzed. Facebook looks at your last 50 activities. If you have liked an update, if you commented, how long you spent on reading a post or if you scrolled past it right away. From this user-profile the algorithm calculates what content to show you next.
If you write a post on your profile or your page Facebook looks at your audiences preferences (weight), the topic of your post, if it’s a picture, video, link…(affinity) and when it was posted. New updates tend to be more up-to-date and will be shown more.
Other examples of the use of algorithms:
Search results on Google are based on algorithms in order to give us the best search result possible. This algorithm is tweaked on a regular basis in order to improve, change with user behavior and be harder to guess. The actual Google search is a bigger secret than the Coke recipe 🙂 .
Another one is Netflix – the algorithm that suggests your next movie to watch is one of the biggest factors of the success of the streaming network.