Friday, March 4, 2011

In the bubble

We live in the age of personalization. Products and services can be tailor-made to our individual requirements and we can choose from a bewildering number of alternatives, all to make us feel unique and special. On the net we have Google,  Facebook and all the others checking our on-line behaviour, remembering our preferences and then customising and adapting the information we receive according to our preferences. Several online newspapers, like the New York Times, now feature news items that your Facebook and Twitter friends have recommended so that you get the news you are interested in.

bubble by zzub nik, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  zzub nik 

But there's a darker side to all this. At this week's TED2011 conference Eli Pariser spoke on the theme of his forthcoming book, The filter bubble; that personalisation is actually making us more uninformed. It sounds so positive that filters on the net help us to find the information we really want and that our friends' recommendations influence our search results. However the tendency that Pariser sees is that we end up only seeing information that confirms our present views, what he calls our "filter bubble". Information that conflicts with the preferences of my friends and myself are simply filtered out of the search without our being aware of the process. This unconscious filtering is worrying.

If all my friends share my political views I risk only seeing search results that we all approve of. Conflicting views are quietly discarded and we can be lulled into thinking that our views are correct. We can easily filter our news preferences on the net so we need never be disturbed by uncomfortable information. We risk being trapped in our own information bubbles.

Shouldn't we be able to switch off this well-meaning filter or at least be more aware that it is there? Is the wisdom of the crowd so wise if the crowd all agree with each other?

Read more in a Mashable article Is the personalization of the web making us dumber?

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