This post previously appeared in iMedia Connections
I’ve been watching social media become an increasingly larger part of my daily media consumption. A little Twitter here, a little Flipbook there, a dash of Groupon just in case I’m missing out. Sprinkle in my LinkedIn Answers obsession. Don’t forget my FourSquare death battle either. Those are just personal consumption patterns. Never mind the numerous other Canadian and US start-ups I follow via Techcrunch, Mashable et al as I try, in my professional life, to keep up with the next Big Thing (like a LinkedIn IPO for example)
I do like the personalization that comes with increased participation. Whatever the algorithm wizards at Facebook and Google are doing seems to be paying off. Certainly fewer Viagra or Cialis ads (a few years from now that’s okay) and the recommendations do seem to be getting tighter to stuff I actually like…or might try. For a voracious, and schizophrenic, reader like myself I always struggled with the Amazon Recommendation engine’s belief that because I’d read one book on a subject that I suddenly wanted to become the world expert on the subject. One data point does not a trend make.
I pride myself on keeping up but as my information sources get more closely defined by who, or what, I’ve interacted with previously, where is the sense of discovery? Isn’t that a concern if Google determines that because I went to X and Y that Z is a logical place to send me to next? Where’s the new stuff that previously might’ve caught my eye in the corner of a newspaper or the new idea next to the article I bought the magazine for?
There are obvious exceptions like the death of OBL, and the social phenomenon now euphemistically called “the tweet heard across the world”, but what about information with less global import? How do you remain aware of important events in your city if your networks aren’t tapped into those circles…or your previous activity doesn’t tell Google to push you there? For example, on my doorstep here in Toronto, what’s going on with “minor” issues like Homelessness (municipal spending down), teen substance abuse (on the rise for ecstasy, marijuana and prescription drugs) or petty crime statistics (down according to Toronto Police Services albeit with many caveats) – I know that I’m not personally searching for this stuff, my networks aint tapped into it and my media is increasingly “personalizing” that stuff off my radar.
Sure Hilton but why don’t you add all these topics into a RSS-reader if you care so much? Fair question but my point being that previously these topics would’ve floated across my non-personalized media consumption radar.
This entire notion was expertly articulated by Eli Pariser in his new book “The Filter Bubble. What the internet is hiding from you”. Eli’s point being is that randomly associated connections, made by the Facebook or Google algorithms and almost every other site out there that want to “personalize” our experiences, ultimately feed you a meal of junk food versus the more balanced meal available previously. That scares the heck outta me.
Having lived in the UK and Canada, the diagram above is a not-so-subtle dig at the ignorance of many Americans on matters relating to Europe – its not that far off conversations I’ve had myself. My fear is that all this personalization quickly becomes a bubble. A bubble that shields me from stuff I should be aware of, or need to be aware of. A bubble that makes me ignorant.
Do you have similar concerns? Is the concern outweighed by the benefits of sites and experiences crafted exactly to you? Where do you stand?