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Programming Collective Intelligence

Toby Segaran
Published by O'Reilly Media
ISBN: 978-0-596-52932-1
360 pages
£ 24.99
Published: 16th August 2007
reviewed by Roger Whittaker
   in the December 2008 issue (pdf), (html)

The subtitle of this book is , but don't let that put you off. This is not about AJAX or the user end of things: it is about the algorithms that make clever stuff on the Web possible at all.

A wide variety of material is covered here, and there are some examples of using some of the web service APIs provided by sites such as Kayak (flight search), Hot or Not (photos and dating) and eBay (auctions). But this type of material does not constitute the bulk of the book, which is about how to actually do the clever stuff yourself.

For instance, there is code for collaborative filtering (the kind of thing that gives a customer recommendations based on his own and others' previous actions). There are examples of grouping and clustering (for example using analysis of content to find similar and dissimilar blogs). There is code for spam filtering, showing how it works in principle, and not shying away from explaining Bayes' Theorem. There are examples of optimisation techniques, again with the underlying mathematics explained. The book ends with a chapter on genetic programming.

Some of the clever stuff is very clever indeed, or at least seemed so to me. The type of problems addressed are at least close to real problems that people want and need to solve.

Fully to understand and apply all the concepts in this book would require some hard work, but even a superficial reading gives one a good idea of the types of methods that can be used.

All the code examples in the book are written in Python, and hence are accessible and readable. Although some of the subject matter is complex, the book is written in very clear language and is very approachable.

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