A cartoon of a man standing on a huge iceberg floating in the sea. The top 5 % of the iceberg is above water and labled “feed”, and the remaining 95 % is under water and labeled “interests”. 🅭

Google shouldn’t be the only source of interest-based recommendations

There are more great articles, essays, and media content available on the web on any given subject than anyone could read in a lifetime. There’s also great new stuff added every day. Putting aside issues like information overload and the filter bubble for one second; how are you supposed to keep up with all our interests and discover more great online content?

There are some notable examples of personalized news-recommendations available. These are based on what you’ve clicked on through the service in the past. These include the Apple News app, Google News For You, Microsoft Feed, Yandex Zen, and a handful of others.

It’s not only news organizations that publish great content on the web, however. Only Google seems to want to tackle interest-based recommendations from around the web.

Web browsers from the companies mentioned above, except Apple, also put news recommendations on their new-tab pages. One of the most interesting web browser-approaches comes from Sleipnir, however. It auto-discover syndication feeds from your most visited websites and compiles a personalized news feed out of them. That way, it features new stuff that may interest you from any website you may frequent.

Firefox had a brief flirt with a company called LaserLike in 2018. The two companies created Firefox Advance: an experimental content-recommendation system that would appear inside the Firefox browser. Advance would show a sidebar filled with recommendations based on the page you currently had open in the browser.

The Firefox Advance experiment disappeared shortly before LaserLike was acquired by Apple.

I tested Advanced while it was available. I found several interesting things to read and I was generally impressed with the recommendations I received. Advance even suggested relevant and interesting articles even for some of the more obscure topics I cover here on Ctrl blog.

I’ve been looking for a replacement service ever since it went away. Ideally, something that works the same way where I could feed it a link to a webpage and it would give me back relevant articles and recommendations.

I must acknowledge here that Firefox Advance pushed its fair share of conspiracy theories, porn, and Nazi-propaganda at me. This was the exception and not the norm, however. Their filtering algorithms weren’t perfect but the idea was interesting.

However, there is nothing quite like it available today. As far as I know, Advance’s instant per webpage recommendations still is a unique take on content-recommendations.

Update (): David Byrne tipped me about an experimental Google Chrome feature from . Contextual Suggestions, or Explore-on-Content, would suggest pages relevant to the active tab at the click of a button. Android Police has more details about it. The feature never hit Chrome stable or beta releases. It was removed from Chrome in .

Update (): The Explore-on-Content feature was renamed Google-on-Content and rolled into the Google app for Android and iOS. It’s still available today! It may pop up as a list of suggestions at the bottom of the screen when you visit webpages opened in the Google app. As far as I can tell, these pop-ups mostly show up on news sites and only link to other publications’ take on the same news story.

The closest alternative is Google Discover (formerly known as “Google Feed” and “Google Now.”) Google Discover will pull on all the data Google knows about you and recommend things it believes you’d be interested in reading.

Google has a variant of Google Discover called Chrome Suggestions. These are similar content recommendations to those you get in Google Discover, but they appear on the new-tab page on Chrome on mobile instead of in the Google app.

Their offerings are heavily weighted towards news articles, but occasionally feature some content from other corners of the web. You only have limited control over what topics and content that appear in your recommendations.

Google’s recommendations are based on the data it has creepily collecting on you over the years. The collected data is then distilled down into a persona and Google’s A.I.’s then try to predict what they think you’d want to click on next.

There are still a few options if you’re looking for recommendations from all over the web. You can try to find someone curating an email newsletter email focused on your niche interests. If you’re lucky, there may even be an online community website dedicated to one of your interests.

Reddit is probably your best bet if you want to find a single website that covers multiple niches. Many interest-oriented subreddits have dedicated users who find and share great links. However, Reddit can be an intimidating and unwelcoming place to many. Each subreddit has its own culture and norms, and you may not share the opinions or newsworthiness-ness criteria of the community that has developed around your niche.

I wish there were more services like LaserLike and that Google Discover had a lot more competition. Google has little (if any?) competition when it comes to recommending content from all over the web. The other alternatives that I’ve mentioned previously in this article are focused on providing news recommendations from a “trusted” set of partner news organizations.

I don’t dislike human curation. However, I do value the breadth and depth of recommendations based on a complete and unhuman knowledge graph and understanding of what’s out there on the worldwide web. After all, there’s way more content out there on any given subject than any one human could possibly read in a day. Or a lifetime.

Right now, the whole industry seems poised to completely cede control over content discovery to Google. What I want to see is more options, more competition, and more different takes on interest-based content recommendation services.