Friday, February 7, 2014

GAMING THE SYSTEM: Striving to understand how complex algorithms and human group-think intersect in social media systems to produce "results" (or lack thereof)

PART 1: Trying to understand "success"

This is not scientific. It is purely anecdotal, one person's experience and observation.

I have one pretty-damn-big, grass-roots, organic success on YouTube, and I did absolutely nothing to attain that "success" other than post a video publicly. From the feedback I get in the comments these days, it appears to be genuinely helping people of all ages (around 400 each day) understand how long division can be done, all in the context of one single, annotated video example.

The video was something I spent one morning putting together, as a review for the 4th graders for whom I was serving as interim math teacher in the spring of 2012. And I posted it to YouTube for their benefit, and as a message-in-a-bottle to anybody else on the web who might (a) stumble upon it and (b) find it to be useful. There was zero expectation that anyone actually ever would.

I don't understand the algorithms behind YouTube and the Google search engine that are partly responsible for the relative success of this video. (I don't think there is any human being, even on the teams of people that design and maintain the underlying algorithms, that fully understands how they "work".) And I don’t understand the group dynamics that originally (before the video was a "success") made a certain critical mass of people "go for" this one math instruction resource as opposed to the others that were presented to them by search engines.

But I do know that within systems like YouTube/Google, nothing succeeds like success, and NOW it is almost certain that, on any given weekday while school is in session, this video will receive slightly more or slightly less than 400 views. And the average daily view count is steadily growing.

But this "success" was not a given when I first posted the video. In fact, at the time I would have been thrilled if just 10 of the students in my class had watched it (and they didn't, by the way). What is it about this video that gave it even the possibility of gaining an initial groundswell of "popularity" that ultimately led the cold equations buried within the YouTube and Google algorithms to pick up on it and eventually show it as a top result when anybody searches for "long division"?

I've got no real answers here. If, after viewing the video, you think that YOU know what aspects of this video led to its "success", please comment here and enlighten me!! I would like to produce more instructional videos that are (1) as helpful and (2) as successful as this one, but to do that I feel a need to get at least a tentative handle on what made this one "work".

Coming soon…

PART 2: Trying to understand “failure”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I've just launched my first experiment in the world of crowdfunding, with a Kickstarter project designed explicitly to "pre-sell" at least 50 to 100 copies of my upcoming audiobook, CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE (the third in the "Classic Tales" audio series).

While I do have a steadily growing group of Facebook fans (650+) who seem to be engaged by my work, it's an open question whether a Kickstarter project can be used to finance production of an audiobook in this way.  We'll see how it goes!

In the meantime, enjoy the project video here, and click on through to the project's Kickstarter page to find out more (and to participate, if you'd like)!