The Filter Bubble

I rewatched Eli Pariser’s excellent TED talk on the implications of personalisation online.Basically he speaks about how data gathered from browsing behaviours is feeding technology that makes assumptions on who we are, what we like and thus what we should be served from a content, design and information perspective.

The point he makes is one of ethics, the web is based on the foundation of being able to share information without boundaries, data can flow between class and territory without being impeded by the external factors that influence that same flow of information in the physical world. We consume content of our own volition and on our own terms. The issue is now the neutrality of that content, because sitting behind it lay a complex set of algorithms that have tracked where you have been and therefore where you might like to go next. In essence it is forcing the serendipity out of the web browsing and placing us in filter bubbles determined by our behavioural characteristics and the data it creates.

For example, search results on Google are not equal, in the pre-bubble world, Google’s Pagerank algorithm would determine the importance of a site by looking at the volume of links directing traffic toward it from other web properties and list on this basis. (well, crudely at least and from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about SEO) Now factored into those same searches are the user data gathered from past searches, sites visited, location, actions across Social platforms etc.. (57 in total) and these factors are influencing the list we see when we type in a keyword. So no two people will see the same results against the same search term as Google have assumed they what we want to see. “You don’t decide on what’s put in it and more importantly you don’t decide on what’s edited out.”

But. we talk a lot about Mass Personalisation and approaching marketing on a 1 to 1 level and for obvious reasons, brand communication should personal and empathetic to a consumer need state. Attitudes to advertising are at an all time low and irrelevance is cited as one of the many factors that has driven this. Mining data to understand behaviour is critical to driving this relevancy and countless tests have told us that consumers are exponentially more response when we approach in this way.

So, where does the balance between intrusion and relevancy lie? Does the Bubble equal relevancy? And what right do the major tech companies behind the web have to curate on my behalf? Algorithmic editors don’t have same et

What Eli does not talk about is our ability to burst the bubble with a pin that is made of cookie deletion and empty caches. Personalisation should add value to our experiences online when we ask it to, not as a default to launching Chrome. The algorithmic editors that gate the web don’t have same inbuilt ethics as those human editors that fill the columns of our newspapers, and importantly, we choose our newspaper based on the type of content we would like curated on our behalf. And that choice is not just based on relevancy of content, we choose things that are uncomfortable and challenging, that make us think differently and challenge our perceptions. The parameters should be as determined by us as by the algorithm, and we should be free roam on inside and out of the bubble as we should choose.

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