I have a HUNCH you don't know much about Pens...

I recently read an article in Wired Magazine about hunch.com, a new "recommendation engine" that worked on a different level than your everyday search engine like Yahoo or Google. The user informs Hunch about your personality and preferences using seemingly unrelated multiple choice questions like, "White meat or dark?" or "What do you think of Robin Hood?" From these answers, the site uses some fancy-dancy algorithm to suggest things that you would like.

My first question was : "Does it work for pens???"

$25? Are you Kidding?
Pen people are particular (say that three times fast) about what kind of writing instrument they carry around with them. Fine pens marry utility and style in a way that makes watches, jewelry and other luxury items look one-dimensional. Not only does the pen have to match aesthetic taste, but it also has to work to the writer's liking.

So, I "hunched" a recommendation for a pen. After all, who isn't looking for a new pen to drool over and scrape up couch cushion change for months to afford. I go to the topic of Fountain Pens and Hunch proceeds to ask me more questions, the first being "How much are you planning to spend?"

Apparently, they don't have many fountain pen people use the site just yet. I automatically opt for the "more than $25." I would have liked to see an option for "$50 to $100", "$100 to $200" and "more than $200".

Then, it asks me what tip size I prefer. Good follow-up question. I select fine. As I answer each question, the column on the left changes, re-prioritizing the results from top to bottom, depending on what answer I select.

"Do I have a color in mind?" asks Hunch. It only offers blue or black as the option and I wonder for a moment if it is referring to the ink or the color of the pen. "I know a pen for every color in the rainbow," I think to myself.

I look over my results at the moment : at the top spot is a Levenger True Writer (which I have two of in my collection), followed by a Mont Blanc Starwalker, Mont Blanc Meisterstück, Graf von Faber-Castell, another result for a Meisterstück and a Lamy Safari in extra-fine. With half the results showing Mont Blanc, I'm thinking that Hunch has a layperson's knowledge of fine pens. Everyone knows Mont Blanc, but ask anyone who knows pens and they will tell you that Mont Blanc is hardly the "only show in town" when it comes to pen brands.

After I select "blue" as my color preference, I notice that Hunch does not add any blue pens to my list, only shuffling the results, moving a Pelikan Souveran up to where the Faber-Castell pen was. The final question in the series was "would you prefer a retractable pen?" I think that if I say "yes," we will see some Namiki Pilot Vanishing Point fountain pens which we now have up for sale on goldspot.com However, Hunch doesn't show me any Vanishing Point pens, no Lamy Dialog 3's, not even a retractable ballpoint pen.

Compared with Googling "fountain pen," Hunch does provide you with a simpler view of actual fountain pens instead of bombarding you with "los links." In google, my results for fountain pen were dominated by stores that sell fountain pens, along with one link to wikipedia. An actual, real result for a fountain pen may be a few clicks away from that point.

Overall, Hunch was about as knowledgeable as asking a random person on the street when it comes to pens. It is slightly more intuitive, and less ad driven than Google, but it certainly does not beat asking someone who works at a pen shop...and that's what we're here for! Humans 1, Algorithms 0

1 comment:

  1. If you don't have a Facebook or Twitter account you are s.o.l. eh? Well,I'm not that curious especially given the results of your research! They have a long way to go to beat Google, in my humble opinion.