Online Content Personalization: Friend Or Foe?

"A lot of people don’t know, actually, that increasingly we don’t all see the same Internet. If you and I Google the same search term we may get very different search results based on who Google thinks we are and what Google thinks we’re interested in. And it’s not just Google. It’s happening all over the Web."

“A lot of people don’t know, actually, that increasingly we don’t all see the same Internet.  If you and I Google the same search term we may get very different search results based on who Google thinks we are and what Google thinks we’re interested in.  And it’s not just Google.  It’s happening all over the Web for a very simple reason, which is that if you can show people stuff that they’re more statistically likely to be interested in, they’ll keep coming back.”  So says Eli Pariser, author of The “Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding Form You”, in the Real Time Conversation segment of this week’s episode of What’s Trending with Shira Lazar on CBSNews.com.

These days, more and more Internet sites and services are touting personalization as a great thing.  When you log on to Facebook you see a feed comprised of all the posts and updates that Facebook thinks you want to see, based upon personalization algorithms.  When you Google something, Google sends back results based upon who they think you are, taking 57 different signals into account including everything from where you are to what kind of computer you are on and which browser you are using.  Yahoo! News, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The NY Times and other news sources are all using some degree of personalization so when you navigate to these sites you may have a completely different experience than somebody else.  Do you think that’s OK?

Pariser is strongly against this phenomenon, which he refers to as “The Filter Bubble.”  He says, “Our experience of the web is being invisibly edited for us.”  We are all stuck inside a bubble of content that the Internet thinks we want to see and we are missing out on content that we should see.  And as the bubble keeps getting more and more personalized, it is becoming harder and harder for us to discover content that is outside of our individual bubbles.  In his TED Talk on the topic, Pariser mentions a quote from Eric Schmidt at Google.  Schmidt said, “It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.”

Check out Pariser’s TED Talk below, as well as the discussion about The Filter Bubble from What’s Trending, and let us know what you think.  Are you happy with the way the Internet is personalized for you, or do you think it’s a problem.  Is online content personalization a friend or foe?  You be the judge.

Megan O’Neill is the resident web video enthusiast here at Social Times.  Megan covers everything from the latest viral videos to online video news and tips, and has a passion for bizarre, original and revolutionary content and ideas.