Tuesday, August 9, 2011

RapidGroove ReRun: Web As Echo Chamber

During my summer vacation I'm running a few re-runs in my blog.  
This one was originally published on May 13th 2011


The Web As Echo Chamber:
When Algorithms Rob You Of the Unexpected

My web experience isn’t the same as yours.  In fact every day, my web experience is more and more my own (and less and less like yours).  Google gives me search results it thinks I want based on all it now knows about me.  Amazon shows me products it thinks I may want to buy.  The ads I see on Facebook or on news sites are for things I may have searched for lately.  A really pronounced example was when I was car shopping this past March and advertising for the models I was researching were everywhere I looked.

I think it’s reasonable to wonder whether this is always really a good thing. 

The idea that Facebook and Google can tailor their services to meet my needs seems very customer friendly.  And I certainly understand that some services are almost entirely funded by advertising, so I should expect to see targeted ads based on my shopping and searching habits.  

But am I slowly being shielded from opposing views, new music and literature, and seeing only what some algorithms think I want?  If so, we may all be at risk of creating our own little echo chambers, where the ideas, people, products and services we encounter are so customized that we are at risk of being cut off from the best experiences of the Internet – being exposed to new ideas and new things.

Try this experiment.  Really try it.  Sit down side by side with someone who is demographically and politically different from you.  Both go to Google.  Try a few searches.  Do you always get the same results?  Do you ever? Go to Amazon.  Does Amazon show you the same recommendations?

I admit, I don’t want my custom experience to go away.  I just want a little more transparency, maybe a little more control.  I think I may want to turn off the customization from time to time to see if I might have a few unexpected experiences.

What about you?

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