Little story below happened last week. It has loopholes, but it’s too weird to be just a coincidence. On internet, I stopped believing coincidences when in 2019:
I was zombie-scrolling facebook, thinking about something and in several seconds I encountered a post on the thing I was thinking about. I put down the phone and thought long and hard about how well I’m mapped in Neural Network model somewhere in data centers. Last week I spent a day until I allegedly “got it”.
Backstory – Characters
I have a cousin, she’s 17, next year she will be finishing school. I watched this baby grow up; we are pretty close, but chat online once a month or so. She also struggles with math, which I know about. I help as much as I can.
Me? I follow a lot of different things and once in a while I forward stuff to people I think will benefit, few examples:
- Podcast with Nick – innovative entrepreneur, co-founder of the 3 of the best restaurants and bars in America – Alinea, Next, and The Aviary for my ex friend, who once shared a dream of owning a restaurant (no prior chat history)
- Snowflake Cloud Conference for my friend leading a sales team in leading local IT company.
Coincidence on the Surface
Tuesday Evening – Occasional Chat
On Tuesday evening I forwarded the “power of googling” on messenger:
And we exchanged on what’s new, nothing associated with the following.
Wednesday Morning – Mind Fuck
I was catching up with world / business / investing news on twitter still at bed. I ran into this tweet by Massimo:
Ok, nice. I like un-intuitive information presented in novel ways. And I forwarded a screenshot to my math-struggling cousin on messenger of this graphic.
Seconds later I receive a reply picture:
Apparently she was doing a proof of (a-b)^2 as a homework for math class (from home) at the very same time. Out of all school fields – math. That same time I saw that tweet. We both get mind-blown by unlikely coincidence, and end chat promptly after. For the next day I’m thinking of what and how it happened.
On Thursday evening I asked her if she googled for help in her math proofs… She did. Important piece of the puzzle.
What Actually Happened – Hypothesis
I don’t believe in coincidences online anymore. Not in a world with real-time ad bidding (RTB). I don’t have technical knowledge how ad brokerages and RTB work, I have just enough understanding this world that changes websites you see dynamically real time, based on browser cookies and all available data and meta data aggregators have on you.
Real world as Data Points in a Model
- Facebook knows our familial relationship, even though our surnames are different. Each holidays (Easter, Christmas) and on random occasions our families meet at grandparents’. Proximate GPS data from our devices, cross-referencing with millions of other users, who have the same surname.
- Facebook also knows the how often we talk, on what topics (pretty sure model takes into account some meta tags even in non-english. I would certainly do so).
- Facebook knows my tendency to forward useful information to my contacts.
- Twitter algorithm (very rarely I engage in Facebook’s anymore) serving my feed knows what am I prone to engage in and how (read thread / like / comment / share), how long I spent looking at certain post.
- Google knows my sibling is struggling with math problems
What one platform knows – all platforms know. It’s sum greater than sum of its’ parts model. Collective cross-platform data on user is higher quality and yields greater ROI for advertisers than data from any one platform would.
The depth of knowledge on individuals occasionally still blows my mind.
The Why & Conclusions
My theory: my feed got served content with reasonable probability I myself or my cousin would visit the site [https://buff.ly/2RsuUB6], which sure enough has ads:
She herself does not engage on Twitter and had no way of seeing the post by Massimo. Facebook might also opportunistically form bonds in virtual interactions to increase time on site. Happy user – greater ROI user.
My theory on story has some shortfalls:
- Post by Massimo was posted on the night before the “forwarding morning”. I myself rarely go though detailed explanations (follow that link) if information is not relevant for me at the time – dependence on third-party content makes this story a bit less creepy.
- Platforms serving that tweet have bet on probability I would forward link (I did screenshot though, 1:0 against ad agencies, haha) at the expense of my attention span – that’s an assumption.
I’m not bitching. I fully accept I have to pay in some way for the use of these communication and information channels. I’m just trying to understand how are they affecting my relationships and the technical aspects of business / algorithms.
Stay awake, brothers and sisters. Do you consume social media or does the social media consume you?