Expanding on Explore-Exploit

A few years ago, I proposed a non-adversarial ad-supported model: an explore-exploit model, applicable to search engines and feeds, that aligns the interests of consumers and advertisers.

This model would treat ads as new, potentially relevant content to be thrown into an exploration funnel. Participating in exploration would be the price that users collectively pay in order to benefit from the exploitation of signals derived from that exploration.

Since advertisers benefit from users seeing their relevant ads, they would be willing to pay for that exploration work with cash. Some ads would prove worthless, in which case advertisers would have spent their money — and users would have spent attention — to find that out. But, for ads that prove relevant to users, a small investment from both advertisers and users would enable the ads to acquire signals that justify organic exposure.

As far as I know, this model hasn’t caught on.

But there’s another way to apply the same idea. In an explore-exploit system, participating in exploration is a form of labor that users provide in order to partake of the benefits of exploitation. Even without advertisers involved, a site could offer users the opportunity to opt out of this labor and enjoy an exploit-only experience.

The site could reasonably ask those users to pay for this opportunity, since exploit-only users would otherwise be freeloading on the labor of other users. Indeed, those payments could be what allows a site to be free for most users, who pay for the content with their exploration labor rather than with cash.

Even with no cash involved, it might make sense to allow users to express preferences in their explore-exploit tradeoffs. Some users may be eager to be the first to explore new content, even if that involves a higher risk of seeing content that is irrelevant or of lower-quality. I explored this idea a while ago, in a post called “You Can’t Hurry Relevance”.

Explore-exploit is a powerful framework. Hopefully this post has expanded your perspective on it, and has given you ideas to explore — and exploit!

High-Class Consultant.

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