Recommending content can be a tricky business. It’s easy to come up with some superficial points on why a particular bit of content on a website may be missed that would strongly pique the interest of the reader; but when a site carries a wide swath of content it’s easy for the whole-big-picture of what drew the individual to the site in the first place to be entirely lost. One story that holds a deep personal interest for me helps exemplify why better algorithms are needed to provide a more user-centric web.
There is a building on Upper Ormond Quay in Dublin Ireland with a sign that reads Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether – the place is now closed down, the building of Victorian style. Doing a search in Google for the address produces results relating mostly to local shops and places of interest, such as the Four Courts buildings in the neighboring block. When I last searched there were few results about Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether, but they did reveal it was a gun shop previously. Google, in fact, archived a good deal of information about this location, which the search algorithm most likely considered irrelevant; however, I have done searches that produced results for this exact location before, but for a very different reason than indicated in the address specific search results.
The National Archives of Ireland did a wonderful job of digitizing the 1901 and 1911 census records, as well as converting scans of the originals into PDF documents. From those documents, indexed by Google in digital form, I can find my paternal grandmother’s family. Her father owned a hotel at the location that is now Adifferentkettleoffishaltogether and he was also a merchant tailor. A few years after the 1911 census my grandmother was gazing out of her window in the family hotel and saw a British Soldier riding his horse down the street. She would tell my father, “Patrick, he was so handsome, and then he just fell…” as he was shot by a sniper from one of the rooftops. The world of the street below, previously somewhat removed from her, suddenly came crashing forward in one of the early events that would erupt into a full out war of independence. In the years that followed many battles would be fought nearby, with my grandmother receiving instructions from her parents, such as to duck whenever British Army or RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) men would go by, since snipers would often appear on rooftops waiting for the perfect shot! Imagine this in contrast with today’s “helicopter parenting,” where kids are often denied the joy of a visit to the local park for fear they will cut themselves on blades of grass.
Shortly after Ireland achieved a tentative peace, the Country was plunged into civil war between the provisional government that supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty and those willing to raise arms over what they felt were far too many concessions to the British Government. In April of 1922, IRA forces opposed to the Anglo-Irish treaty occupied the Four Courts in the neighboring block to my great-grandparent’s hotel. When an agreement was finally reached in June of that year, as the rebels were arranging the terms of laying down arms, a stray spark ignited the munitions stockpile in the Public Records Office, setting off an explosion that shook all parts of Dublin City, and in an instant, destroyed the majority of Irish vital records going back close to 1000 years!
How to provide someone like myself those sorts of personalized results when current metrics typically used for weighting content are not nearly clever enough to get at “what’s important to me” is one of my most rewarding challenges. More importantly, how do you provide some of those same results to people that found this blog post captivating and would have a definite interest in searching for more on the history surrounding a particular building in Upper Ormond Quay that’s more than just, “A different kettle of fish”?