Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Creating the Whiskey Context Decision Tree - Part Two

My last post described the general challenges of building a context decision tree, and the specific challenges surrounding my search for expertise regarding whiskey selection. In the end, I decided I would have to rely on my own ideas, developed during the many hours of research I conducted while building the other inputs to the Whiskey Recommender. My immediate need was to create a context decision tree so the Recommender Apperator could generate a Whiskey Recommender app. Once that example is published, I hope to find some real, live whiskey experts that can help me build other, alternative Whiskey Recommenders.

I created my decision tree using our free KnowtShare web application. KnowtShare was designed to make it easy to build tree-shaped models. We, at Apprentice Systems, know from our many years of building intelligent systems that trees - hierarchical, non-cyclical models - are essential for capturing several modes of reasoning. Classification, composition and multi-pronged evaluation are all best described using trees. The branching behavior of a decision tree is also easy to document with this sort of model.

While some trees are best built bottom-up, a decision tree is usually built top-down. In other words, you decide the first question you are going to ask, list the possible choices, then determine what choices will be presented based on that first choice, and so on. The tree will document all the possible paths through the context collection process, but users will only travel one of those paths each time they use the application. At the end of each path, a 'leaf' on the tree, will be a recommended option - in this case, a type of whiskey.

I decided, pretty easily in fact, what the first question in my decision tree would be: "Are you going to mix your whiskey or drink it straight up?" I think this is a good first question because most whiskey connoisseurs agree that if you are going to mix your whiskey with Coke, it really doesn't much matter what you drink! Just don't waste a good Scotch! Of course, there are those who will mix an expensive whiskey with Coke, and I need to allow for that possibility as well.

Here is the 'mix it' side of my whiskey decision tree:

The next set of choices I present are using a flavorless mixer (water or club soda) versus a flavored mixer. You can still be a whiskey purist, of sorts, if you only use water or club soda. If your whiskey is to become part of a cocktail, however, it will be difficult to taste the whiskey itself - which is perhaps one of the goals of drinking a cocktail.

I'm pretty comfortable with these first few questions; I think I am on safe ground. Now the going gets much more difficult. I knew the 'flavored mixer' path was taking me towards the cheaper whiskeys, such as Canadian and American blended whiskeys, so I created the next set of choices: do you care more about price or status? If the user selects 'status', I decided to recommend either a Kentucky Straight Bourbon (like Wild Turkey) or a Tennessee Whiskey (like Jack Daniels). Picking 'price' leads to a variety of inexpensive American and Canadian options.

The real puzzler is the next set of options for the non-flavored mixer path. Remember, choices have to be presented in a language that represents the user's perspective (this was covered in the last post). Waxing poetic about the process differences between Scotch, Irish Whiskey and Bourbon won't work here! The target audience of the Whiskey Recommender is someone who is new to the world of whiskey, not an expert. Newbies couldn't care less about the finer points of distilling whiskey, especially since their palates probably can't distinguish the taste differences that result. So I decided to keep things simple, and make the next set of choices "do you prefer American products, or not?"

Finally, at the next level, I reached a point in the tree where I relied on taste profiles to make a distinction. American products were split into 'spicy', which leads to American Rye, and 'sweet', which leads to the bourbons. The non-American choice was split into 'light and smooth' (Irish Blended and Canadian Single Malt) and 'smokey and robust' (Scotch Blended and Single Grain).

This is the point where I need to reiterate an important message from the last post: this is all subjective! Even if I were a whiskey expert, which I'm not, this would still just reflect my opinion. A recommendation, by definition, exists in the world of subjectivity. Otherwise, this would be an 'Answerer', not a Recommender.

The power of the Recommender pattern is that I can create "Deb's Whiskey Recommender" just by building this tree in KnowtShare and combining it with the Whiskey Data Table in the apperator. Then my friend Richard, a real whiskey expert, can generate "Richard's Whiskey Recommender" by creating his own decision tree. He can even reuse my Whiskey Data Table. Better yet, in the future we can crowd source a much more complete data table and make that a community asset we all tap into when we build our own unique Whiskey Recommenders. That's the vision.

Back to my Recommender. Let's take a look at the other major branch of my decision tree, the 'straight up' branch:

I reused the 'do you prefer American products' choice again, and early on in the question sequence, because I needed to account for American Single Malts and I can't do it through a taste profile. American Single Malts are all over the board, taste-wise, because American distillers are using a wide variety of processes to create their single malts. Some are following the Scottish methods, and beating high-end Scotches in blind taste tests. Some are creating their own unique processes that are leading to unique taste profiles. All that binds them together is their country of origin, and that American origin is important to some people, including me. I like our underdog status in the Single Malt arena, and I like to support these distillers when I can.

As for the rest of the 'straight up' branch, it is a taste-driven breakdown between Irish Whiskey and Scotch, and within Scotch, a breakdown into the various regions. While some regions have distinct flavor profiles (like Islay) and some are more diverse (like the Highlands), taste is still the easiest way to direct a Scotch drinker to a particular region.

A real Whiskey Recommender, as opposed to this demo application I am building, could recommend specific Scotch brands, like Laphroaig. To keep things manageable, I have decided to stop my recommendations at a type of whiskey, like Islay Single Malt Scotch. If you've read the other posts about building the Whiskey Recommender, you will know that this is one of many simplifying assumptions I have made during this process.

Now that I've built my Whiskey Context Decision Tree and saved my KnowtShare file, I have all of the knowtifacts necessary to generate my app. The next step will be to enter them into the Recommender Apperator and generate my own custom web app.

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