Mahout, There It Is! Open Source Algorithms Remake Overstock.com

Bagley is a software developer with Overstock’s fledgling O Labs, a mini-research-and-development operation tucked into the fifth floor of the company’s Salt Lake City headquarters, just outside the office of CEO Patrick Byrne. O Labs was founded to incubate projects that can push the company in new directions, and MyCurrent was the first of the lot. A personal news reader may seem like an odd thing to emerge from an online retailer, but that’s largely the point. And in the end, the project pumped new life into the company’s primary retail operation.

In building MyCurrent, Bagley and his O Labs cohorts stumbled onto an open source software project known as Mahout. Founded in 2009, Mahout provides the world with a set of freely available machine learning algorithms — algorithms that give computing systems at least a modicum of artificial intelligence, letting them adjust their behavior according to what’s happened in the past. Inside O Labs, the idea was to use Mahout as a means of examining the news stories you’ve enjoyed in the past and then selecting stories you’re likely to enjoy, well, right now.