Week 4

I found Chapter 1 of Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble” to be extremely informative and interesting. In his explanation of three of the most visited and widely known websites, Amazon, Google and Facebook, he demonstrated how to successfully win (as the chapter is titled) the Race for Relevance. As he described, for all three sites, complex algorithms are used to personalize the web experience. Amazon uses what you search for and what you buy, and makes suggestions based on the coinciding objects or by what others have bought together in the past. The process is known as collaborative filtering. This allows for a more personal shopping experience in an ever-expanding world where almost anything can be bought. For Facebook, the algorithms create a stream of information that constantly is updating, allowing people to keep up with their friends, family and acquaintances. Google uses a variety of algorithms and techniques to personalize the Internet experience, further making the site more relevant to users. They keep track of what one searches, and which entry is clicked, which can help change the order in which searches appear on the results page. They further personalize the experience by tracking people’s emails and searches together, allowing for a more personal search engine. As someone who is a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, a Google search of “Eagles” will prompt results featuring the football team, rather than the animal (as described on page 33). If someone is not into sports, the results would likely differ. These websites prove that the internet is moving toward Negroponte’s utopian ideal of a “daily me” that exists in society.

The discussion of a personalized Internet reminds of Shirky’s discussions of web-based communities. Sites like Meetup also personalized the Internet, but in a different manner. To join a community, in this case, one would have to seek out the options her or himself. He or she would look at different communities by type or by city, then would choose one. Therefore, in this case, the users are personalizing their own web experience themselves. Whereas, on Google, a user’s web experience is being crafted by their past experiences and complex algorithms. Therefore, a person’s online individuality is more formed than developed. However, at the same time, Meetup still works to make the Internet a type of “Daily Me.” People are able to choose their unique communities and create a personal experience, even though it is not all succinctly together.

Negroponte’s idea of the “Daily Me” was brought up in a previous Communications course at Michigan. In class we discussed the positives and downsides to have a completely personalized “newspaper” of sorts, which would cater directly to each person’s interests. One disadvantage, we decided, was that people would not be receiving all types of information needed. Sometimes, people need to unintentionally run into items they would not normally pay attention to, because this would make the user more educated and more well rounded. It is argued that with the “Daily Me,” it is possible for people to become narrow-minded and ignorant, since they are not receiving a complete wealth of information. This idea relates very specifically with COMM 488, because our politics depend largely on what we read, and if what we read is specifically catered to us, we might not be privy to all sides to a story. If we do get information from both sides, then our viewpoints would be unfairly skewed, forcing us to make uneducated decisions. Do you guys think the specialization of the Internet, especially with the personalization techniques of Google or Facebook (for example), would actually specify the “Daily Me” of the Internet enough to cloud our opinions?

Ben Halperin

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1 Response to Week 4

  1. nopatric says:

    I find the complex algorithms used by certain online companies, especially Google, to be interesting as well but I’m not as optimistic about their societal implications as you seem to be. I feel that not very many positive things can come from such extensive knowledge of consumer preferences. The fact that Google knows my preferences and likes just means they can further personalize advertisements that are directly targeted at me, and that’s a scary thought.

    I think you touched on this in your last paragraph when you talk about how this limits exposure to content. I don’t think that’s the most dangerous side effect of these algorithms, but it certainly is an important one. The algorithms make it more difficult for one to be well rounded and use the internet as an education tool, while simultaneously making it into a marketer’s paradise where they can easily penetrate their target market.

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