My Current Favourites

The chaps at NMA asked me for a top 5 thing for a column on their site (here, but behind a pay wall) a few months back. I stumbled back upon it when vainly Googling my own name, stupidly expecting something more than my LinkedIn profile to top the rankings. I thought I’d put it up here because I half expect everything that has “digital” affixed to it to have an expiration date stamped on it and dated in the very near future. A bit like milk. And this to be especially pronounced when in relation to “top XX” lists. Not always so it seems. In no order whatsoever:

  1. emotouchscreenfuture.tumblr.com
    Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a growing influx in “The Future of…” videos. They all present the same Minority Report-esque utopian vision of the future where technology benefits us in innumerable ways. Almost invariably, these videos will feature a touch screen of some sort – it’s like that’s the point where our prescience stops. Emotouchscreenfuture brings them all together for you to gawk at.
  2. librarything.com/unsuggester
    The web is increasingly becoming about real-time, one-to-one experiences where everything we consume has been personalised and filtered to what some algorithm believes are our needs, wants and desires. Amazon’s recommendations are the best example of this. The unsuggester does the complete opposite. It recommends books it knows you won’t like by applying the same logic. If you ask for Immanuel Kant, you will be recommended Sophie Kinsella or something equally random, injecting a bit of much need serendipity back into our lives.
  3. asos.com/urban-tour
    I have never seen interactive video this well executed. There is a lovely insight at the heart of this that said, men don’t connect to fashion through catwalks and glossy magazines like their female counterparts, but do so through culture and community. So, BBH built this amazing experience that did exactly that and allowed users to manipulate video and play with the products. Who says the days of the expensive campaign site are dead?
  4. compuserve.com
    There was a point in my life when I genuinely believed that the entire internet was just compuserve.com. It did a fantastic job of holding me and my 14.4kbps US Robotics modem in its gated commune of boredom. Then I discovered search. I include it because it has served as the benchmark upon which everything that I subsequently saw excelled.
  5. brainpickings.org
    Brainpickings is a veritable banquet of art, culture, science and general interestingness. All the stuff I wish I had the time or inclination to find seems to surface here. Thanks to it, I seem way more interesting on Twitter than I actually am in real life.
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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.