Consumers still want ‘humans’ behind their content

May 05, 2016 / by / 0 Comment
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There are jobs that are either dangerous or repetitive, a reality that opens a wider avenue for considering robots and computers over humans. Factory jobs, among many others, are the first ones eyed to be obliterated should the perfect technology for robo-laborers come in.

It has somewhat begun. Tech giants and so many brands have been relying a large fraction of their operations and services on algorithms and software simply because they work faster, and at some point, more efficient. However, that doesn’t mean that it works in every industry.

In curation, the trend of trusting algorithms completely is seen to approach a gradual end. Brands—music streaming websites, news aggregators, and other content-focused websites and apps—seemed to have realized that algorithm-powered curation is nothing different from an automated customer service hotline: performing, yes, but not at all efficient.

The rising number of giant brands abandoning their robot curators is proof that consumers aren’t really into dealing with machines especially in terms of seeking for advice or telling them what’s new and relevant. In 2014, the likes of Spotify, StumbleUpon, and GoodReads ditched their algorithms for real human curators in order for them to deliver more realistic content.

The list goes on, with tech giant Apple leading the way. The company made headlines upon announcing that its news aggregator app will use real people to pull together original and long-form content from the web. The reason? Humans, unlike algorithms, have the capacity to evaluate which story is share-worthy and decide what content will most likely gain readership in a specific niche.

What triggered this shift to trusting human curators again? Steven Rosenbaum of Forbes said it’s all about the computer’s inadequacy to decide beyond its original design or program. “Digital overload is swamping the current recommendation engines, making the sharp knife of human editorial a better filter than the blunt instrument of algorithmic recommendation. So while an algorithm might be able to sort out a collection of quality content like feature films, or music released by a label, or books distributed by a publisher, the sheer volume of self-published books, or self-recorded music, makes the algorithmic approach less and less successful,” he explained.

Born2Invest, a multilingual news curation app for business and finance, has long decided to tap real journalists’ services in 2013 when it was still on its conceptualization stage. At the time, most news aggregators still depend heavily on algorithm simply because it was cheaper and easier. Software saves cash, avoids the arduous task of sieving through the immeasurable amount of stories being published online every day.

“Computer curators are fast but not efficient, and in fact, it is the curation industry’s main problem. Why? Since computers aren’t capable of deciding which particular story serves the interest of a specific audience, they ended up creating a big bunch of noise—and who wants to deal with noise anyway?” CEO Dom Einhorn said.

Einhorn’s decision to collaborate with journalists isn’t limited to curation in the English edition of the app alone. “Our Russian edition is curated by writers and experts from Croatia, Ukraine, and Russia itself, the same way our Ting Vet version is handled by experts from Vietnam,” he added. Now, as he continuously hires writers across the globe for more language iterations of Born2Invest, the app remains among the top business apps on Google Play and Apple AppStore, surpassing usual giants such as Bloomberg and CNBC.

Among the prime examples of human’s efficiency in content delivery is Twitter. Who would have predicted that this microblogging site would be the biggest source of most relevant industry news in the future? Notice that even giant publishers jump to Twitter when they need a story straight from the subject’s mouth himself. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a successful brand that doesn’t have a human admin behind its official handle, as company execs themselves know that no customer wants to deal with a repetitive, incompetent robot.

However, this goes not only for content. According to Suleman Din of Financial Planning, many studies have shown that consumers and investors still want human interaction especially in terms of dealing with transactions that may heavily affect or alter their lives. He cited how the digital advice segment — in which investment firms utilize automated finance advisers for its customers — suffered from turning their backs on experts who have years of study and experience on the matter.

Of course, robo-advisers have done something good to the investing segment, but big banks themselves know they couldn’t just depend solely on algorithms. Automated advisers can only help an investor expand its portfolio, but never will it give a sane, human advice on how to carefully plan an estate, tax, insurance, and other aspects outside investing.

“Expanding your portfolio is wonderful, yet what you do with it and how you protect your family are areas that robo-advisers seldom can help you with. Besides, all too often, these automatic planners give you only exchange-traded funds that track well-known indexes. Forget about trying to beat the market,” said Larry Light of USA Today. Again, robots fall short of not having a human brain—and perhaps heart.

At the end of the day, consumers in their proper frame of mind would not want a robot to give them advice on things they consider crucial or important. Perhaps it’s easier to convince people that a particular piece or story is the one they might need to know today because a real person has said it so. Who would believe an article written by somebody who isn’t a John Smith but a Qzqw-100022xb-1?



Arturo Garcia is a Peruvian-Filipino freelance journalist. He is a self-confessed football fan like most Latin Americans, although he never learned to enjoy basketball, his Filipina mother’s favorite sport. He started out as a political writer for a local daily in Peru, but now focuses on everything-tech and business. Arturo studied Economics at Unibersidad de Lima and currently lives at an apartment in Salinas Valley, Northern California, exactly 725 meters from John Steinbeck’s hometown.