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Make Amazon, Facebook and your other favorite services smarter

Make Amazon, Facebook and your other favorite services smarter
© Olivier Le Moal | Dreamstime.com

Modern technology puts so much information just a click or tap away that it can be overwhelming. If you aren't quite sure what you're after, you can spend hours browsing products, videos, results and posts on sites like Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Google and Facebook and still end up with nothing useful.

That's why these sites have recommendation systems to suggest things you might like. It's a helpful way to save time, as long as the recommendations are actually things you want to see. Unfortunately, a lot of times the site doesn't know you as well as it thinks.

Maybe you looked at an item you would never actually buy just out of curiosity, or you started watching a movie that turned out to be terrible. Perhaps you were interested in a certain topic or person at a one time, but you aren't that interested now. Someone else might have been using your account, or you did something embarrassing you don't want showing up anywhere.

The good news is that sites that offer recommendations have ways to let you control what you see. In fact, a bit of time spent training, or re-training, a site in what you like can lead to more productive browsing and searching down the road.

Plus, it really doesn't take that long. So let's get started making your favorite sites work the way you want, from A to Z (well, actually "Y" for YouTube).

Amazon

Amazon's recommendation system is based primarily on purchases, but items you've looked at can be a factor as well. These generally show up on your Amazon home page and the Your Amazon page.

You can adjust what Amazon thinks you want to see by visiting the "Improve Your Recommendations" page. Another option if you see a recommendation that's really out there is to click the "Why recommended?" link below an item.

Both of these give you a chance to view and edit your browsing and purchase history. For purchases, you can rate them to tell Amazon whether you'd like to see that kind of product in the future. You can also rate items while you're browsing to tell Amazon if you want those to factor into future recommendations.

When you're editing recommendations, you'll see two check boxes next to every item. One says "This was a gift" and the other is "Don't use for recommendations." Either one will tell Amazon not to factor that purchase into future recommendations.

Facebook

Facebook's News Feed is a never-ending stream of posts, shares, likes, photos and videos from your friends and advertisers. The News Feed used to list everything in chronological order, but then Facebook decided to try and magically decide what you want to see.

It does this based on what friends you interact with most. However, it doesn't always get it right and you might miss out on an important update from a friend who doesn't post much. That's why Facebook just added the "See First" option.

Go to a friend's profile page and look for the button that says "Following," (on Facebook Pages, like the Kim Komando page, it will say "Liked"). Click the button and select "See First." Whenever this person posts something, it will go right to the top of your feed so you don't miss it.

There are also other ways to control who you see in your News Feed. We have instructions here for filtering out certain people, avoiding shares from certain websites or Facebook apps and more.

Google

You might not realize it, but Google keeps tabs on everything you do using its services. OK, you probably knew that, but you might not realize how much it influences your search results. It also uses your searches to learn your interests so it can serve you targeted ads, but that's another story.

If you're signed in to your Google account, Google adjusts what you see based on what you've searched for in the past. This can be helpful sometimes, or it can keep you from finding new sites and information.

One way to overcome this is to edit your Google search history or wipe it completely. If Google doesn't remember what you've searched for, it can't use it to predict what you want to see.

Another option, if you ever want to see how Google is altering your search results, or just want to get away from them for a search or two, is to open a private browser window and run the search there. It's the same as logging out of your Google account, but then you don't have to go through the trouble of logging back in again.

Hulu

Hulu is one of the top video-streaming services with a wide selection of currently airing shows and popular movies. However, it's easy to get lost when you're trying to find something new to watch.

Head over to the Recommendations page at http://www.hulu.com/recommendations to see what Hulu thinks you'll like. These choices are based on things you've watched and rated in the past. You can refine them by being sure to rate everything watch. Also, on the Recommendations page, you can click the "Yes" and "No" buttons to tell Hulu if the recommendation is something you want to see.

Netflix

If you're watching online streaming video, it's a good bet you use, or at least tried, Netflix. It's still the big name in online video and has a huge library of content. Plus, its recommendation system is actually really good. Of course, it can still make mistakes, or someone else might have used your account and thrown it off.

The way to change your recommendations is by rating what you watch. When you're first starting Netflix, you'll see a lot of surveys called Taste Preferences that ask you to rate movies, shows and genres you've watched recently.

Taste Preferences are important to fill out so Netflix can build your Taste Profile. After a while, you won't see as many of these, however.

If you want to revisit your preferences, go to the Netflix site and under Your Account load the Taste Preferences survey. Or click this link and log in.

Click here for more ways to make sure you're getting the most from Netflix.

YouTube

Google owns YouTube, so it shouldn't surprise you that, like Google Search, YouTube's recommendations are based on what you've searched for and watched in the past. Unfortunately, it doesn't take into account whether or not you actually liked a video.

To adjust this, go to YouTube, sign in and in the left column click "History." You can now browse your watch history. Click the "X" next to a video to remove it from your history and have YouTube stop using it for recommendations.

If you just want to start over, you can click the "Clear all watch history" button to wipe the slate clean. You can also click "Pause watch history" and YouTube will stop recording what you watch. You can click over to the "Search history" tab to do the same things for your video search history.

You can also help YouTube figure out your likes directly. On the YouTube home page in the "Recommended" section, click the three vertical dots below any video thumbnail and select "Not Interested."

You can also click the "X" in the upper-right corner of any channel section to remove it from the home page and let YouTube know you aren't interested in that channel. Want to know about a channel you'll want to keep around? Learn about the Kim Komando YouTube Channel and how you can make sure you never miss one of our helpful videos. 

Then be sure you get more out your YouTube experience with these five hidden secrets.

More tips you can't miss:

Facebook keyboard shortcuts you didn't know existed

Cloud services: How do they compare?

How to save your text messages

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