Thursday, January 16, 2014

Don't fence me in

I have quite a number of friends on Facebook but only a few of them ever show up in my news feed. I used to think that maybe they weren't so active but now I suspect that they are simply filtered out. A video (see below) by Derek Muller of Veritasium, an educational science channel on YouTube, featured in an article on the Huffington Post, Nobody 'Likes' Your Status Updates Any More? Blame Facebook, explains how Facebook is increasingly filtering what we see. Muller explains how we only see a fraction of what our friends post and that some friends never show up at all. Basically each one of us is an advertiser on Facebook and we are marketing ourselves. As a result we might be interested in paying for increased exposure. You can already pay to boost the impact of particular posts and although this applies mostly to companies and organisations a likely development, according to Muller, is that we too may have to pay extra to make sure our updates reach most of our friends out there. As Facebook, like all social media, tries to find new ways of monetizing their service it's not surprising that you may have to pay for maximum impact, even if Muller is highly critical of this tactic in the film. So we live in a kind of bubble in Facebook with a select band of faithful friends selected not so much by us but by an algorithm at Facebook. Read a reaction to Muller's film in Business InsiderBlogger Nails A Major Problem With Facebook's Newsfeed.

There has been similar criticism of Google cocooning us in a comfort bubble due to personalised search results. As Google learns your preferences it searches for sites that you have previously used and as time goes on you will get results that are customised to your preferences. That explains why my own blog posts always feature prominently when I search for something via Google (I bet they don't show up in your searches!). This creates a false bubble that could lead me to believe that my opinions are shared by the world and means that I am seldom exposed to ideas that are radically different from mine.

Personalisation sounds great but when it leads to a bubble culture it becomes rather dangerous. We develop tools that help us distill the vast reserves of raw data there will be increasingly sophisticated levels of personalisation. Learning analytics appears in most predictions of the next big thing in education and undoubtedly our devices will be able to lead us to learning resources that match our preferences and interests. The problem with all this is that it lacks serendipity and often real learning occurs when you meet the unexpected and have to deal with answers that question your thinking.

I don't want to be herded into personalised bubbles, no matter how convenient and comfy they may be. I want to have the option to switch off the bubble and see all my Facebook friends' updates now and again (well, minus the Farmville updates!). Let me choose if I want appropriate learning resources chosen for me or whether I want to take pot luck out there in the wild west of the web.

Will my plea be heard? No chance, I fear, but at least I've asked.

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