Changing my gender to male on Google+ improved my What's Hot experience Google+ has updated how they distribute content to users through Explore
Earlier today, +Kimberly Chapman
told me about a little experiment she'd done. She'd opened a tab on her browser and directed it to plus.google.com/explore
, a stream that enables you to see the hottest content on Google+. In another tab, Chapman changed her gender on her Google+ profile from female to male, and then loaded the Explore page into another tab.
The difference was astonishing. "As a girl, I get stupid warm-fuzzy meaningless shit," Chapman writes on a post (http://goo.gl/ZDBxT
). "As a guy, I get nerdy stuff. This is not okay. I get that [What's Hot] algorithms are based on what people click, like, share, comment on, etc. Fine. But I challenge anyone to give me one good reason why there should be such a drastic difference in less than ten seconds by simply changing my gender, other than institutionalized sexism about what girls and guys apparently like."
I tried the experiment myself just a moment ago. Below are ten posts that graced my screen, organized into pairs. I have paired them based on their placement on my stream and no other factors. The example image shown below, for instance, shows a post with a quote and one with a bar graph -- the quote was the fifth post on my Explore stream when I was female and the bar graph was the fifth post on my Explore stream when I was male.
Note that I have not changed anything other than my profile. And despite my extensive interaction with the social network, when I'm female, gadgets might as well not exist. When I was male, I saw two posts referencing #io13
, but there was no mention of the event when I was female. In fact, the closest thing to tech news I got as a female was an article about how to become an influencer on Pinterest. Needless to say, this article didn't show up when I was male.
Neither did the nausea-inducing feel-good quotes on pictures. +Yonatan Zunger
, Chief Architect of Google+, responded to the issue, saying: "What's Hot is based both on properties inherent to the post -- how people have reacted to it when they saw it, +1's, reshares, and so on -- and on properties of the viewer, especially profile info. Gender is one of those signals, as are quite a few other things. From what I can tell, gender is having a relatively large effect on the result set, because our models (based on people's actual responses to seeing these things) seem to show a pretty sharp gender difference in response."
He agreed the model is too gender sensitive, adding that a team is currently working on content recommendations that better reflect individual user preferences. He assures users that "there was no human editing to say that women like X and men like Y."UPDATE:
At 13:08 Pacific, Zunger commented on this post saying that further discussion with the What's Hot team has revealed that the system that populates Explore is using an old-generation algorithm, which is known to have been very gender sensitive.
"The system that populates the actual What's Hot posts you see in your [Home] stream is the more modernized system, with a lot more subtlety in its model, and it does not have the same level of gender sensitivity," Zunger added. "It's still aware of it, but it's a small feature, not a big one."
Google+ plans to upgrade Explore to the new algorithm. Thank you, Google+ team for being responsive about this issue. We look forward to seeing how this algorithm continues to evolve to serve us more and more of the content each of us wants.