The web has become an extremely personalized place. Almost everything a user views has in some way been personalized to his or her interests. As Eli Pariser explains in “The Filter Bubble”, companies are finding success once they find a way to become as personalized to individual users as possible. Amazon, the online book store, was one of the first sites to utilize algorithms that are capable of using data to learn about user’s individual interests. Amazon’s algorithms allow for instant matching of customers and books. Amazon was also able to make recommendations for users and see which users had similar preferences. This allowed users to see which books other users who had similar preferences purchased that week. PARC (Xerox Palo Alto Research Center) also started the collaborative filtering process which ran in the program, Tapestry. Tapestry sifted through information and figured out what information was most relevant to each user and ranked information based on its relevance.
Google and Facebook are other examples Pariser offers that used data to offer the most relevant information to their users. Google uses PageRank to determine which pages are most relevant in search. Google also uses several algorithms that are able to figure out the groups an individual belongs to and then the search results can be tailored to the individual’s group’s preferences. Facebook took a different approach, instead of initially using data and algorithms to gain information about users, Facebook asked users for this information. Later, Facebook became more personalized and easier to use with the use of the EdgeRank algorithm, or the News Feed, as well as Facebook Everywhere. Facebook Everywhere brought Facebook-style personalization to millions of other online sites. For example, today the “Like” button can be seen on almost every website online. Pariser explains how the entire Web can become a platform for Google and Facebook. Scholz in “Infrastructure: It’s Transformations and Effect on Digital Activism” also points out that half of all web traffic today is concentrated on just 10 websites, Google and Facebook being two of the major sites visited by Web users each day. While it is true that Google and Facebook control a lot of online traffic, they are also trying to personalize the web for users so that all users do not have the same online experience.
My question for the class is whether the amount of information that can be acquired about us in order to personalize our online experience is at all concerning? Even when we are unaware, Google and other websites are tracking what we are doing online and learning as much as possible about each of us. Is this personalization nice and convenient, or is it too intrusive?