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”

1 comment:

  1. Daniel,

    Here is my take on what makes your video on "Long Division with 2-Digit Divisor" a winner for students of any age:

    1. Your explanation uses clear, topic-specific language that is redefined and demonstrated throughout.

    For example, you redefine the word "estimation" as "intelligent guesswork" and give several examples of how to do it. You also use key division vocabulary words such as "two-digit divisor" and "dividend" correctly in your explanation and point these out in the problem as you go.

    2. The use of some color-coding (but not too much) in your visuals, enhances your explanation to help the viewer stay with you the whole time during the problem.

    3. In addition to speaking clearly and at a reasonable pace, your voice gives off an air of ENTHUSIASM and KNOWLEDGE that makes the listener want to hear what you have to say.

    4. Some other "intangible" observations that I sense about your presentation after listening:
    *I felt that you were sitting down right next to me (the viewer) and explaining how to do the process.
    *You told me that I might possibly need an eraser because I would be doing some guessing- and my guesses might not be right! This made me feel ok about the possibility of making mistakes as I go.
    *You did not talk down or "simplify" your explanation to me. You required that I use my prior knowledge about division with one-digit divisors to help me along.
    *After watching, I felt a sense of inner CONFIDENCE and willingness to try it your way because it made sense to me and looked so achievable.

    So, this is my opinion of what makes this video the best one out there of its kind on explaining the process of long division with 2-digit divisors. Well done, Daniel!