Unfortunately, the article is subscription only, but here's some short excerpts:
- Collaborative filtering software is changing the way people choose music, books and other things, by helping them find things they like, but did not know about .... It helps people find things they might otherwise miss.
Keyword-based search engines (such as Google) have a fundamental constraint: they can only help you find something if you already have an idea of what it is. Two people's idea of "good music" may differ substantially, but Google would return the same results to both of them. To find things you might like, but not already familiar with, requires a different technology.
There is one glaring error in an otherwise good piece. The article claims that Badrul Sarwar "pioneered" item-item collaborative filtering in 2001, "around the same time" as Amazon.com "had similar ideas". Amazon invented item-item collaborative filtering and deployed it on their website in 1998, three years earlier.
Update: The article is now available for free.
Update: Tom Standage (Technology Editor, Economist) contacted me about their error, admitted they were wrong, and said they will issue a correction.
Update: The correction.