A Crash Course in Filter Bubbles aka Google Search+ Your Web

A Crash Course in Filter Bubbles aka Google Search+ Your Web

18th January 2012

The chances are over the last few days if you have even the slightest passing interest in SEO you will have come across Google Search Plus Your Web (of Search+ to it’s friends) It’s easily one of the biggest single changes in the UX of Google search ever made and is the endgame many have foreseen in Google’s march towards personalisation.

While talking about it many have referred to changes as encouraging ‘filter bubbles’ while the name is fairly self-explanatory I thought many people might benefit of a ‘primer’ on the filter bubble concept and some further reading which you might find interesting in light of Google’s changes.

As in pretty much every situation if you’ve only got ten minutes you can’t go too far wrong with Wikipedia. Their page on Filter Bubbles is a pretty good starting point. And if you can’t even be bothered to read that much the following paragraph gets right to the point

A filter bubble is a concept developed by Internet activist Eli Pariser in his book by the same name to describe a phenomenon in which websites use algorithms to selectively guess what information a user would like to see based on information about the user like location, past click behaviour and search history. As a result websites tend to show only information which agrees with the user’s past viewpoint.

Not surprisingly the book is available on Amazon, I’ve not read it myself, I’ve added it to my Kindle Wish-list but I’m fearful like ‘The Long Tail’ & ‘The Tipping Point’ it’ll fall into the ‘nice idea, but did you really need 200 pages to tell me that’.

Like every interesting person in the world with an interesting idea, Eli has been invited to deliver a TED talk. And by the magic of the intewebz you can watch that below.

Key take-aways from the TED Talk

  • A squirrel dying in your front year is more relevant than people dying in a different country. Mark Zuckerberg
  • Eli thinks the Filter Bubble is a bad idea
  • Facebook’s Edgerank Algorithm and it’s output the news feed is probably a better example of a Filter Bubble than even Google Search+
  • The internet shows us what it thinks we want to see rather than what we ‘need’ to see.
  • Everybody’s Filter Bubble is personal but you don’t decide what enters the bubble or decides what it excludes.
  • Junk Food and Vegetable is a good analogy, Filter Bubbles give us junk food when we sometimes we need vegetables.
  • We used to have human gate keepers, now we have robot ones.

Stephen Levy who knows a thing or too about Google, actually makes an interesting argument at Wired, that Search+ is better for dealing with Filter Bubbles, because there’s an ‘off switch’ that wasn’t there before. But the question is how many people will click that ambigious little toggle switch.

Popping the Filter Bubble is also being used as a marketing message for the aspiring search engine Duck Duck Go, which is an interesting positioning statement, especially given they appear to be setting themselves up as ‘Google before it got rubbish’

And if you really want to pop your own filter bubble, ComputerWorld.com has following advice.

  • Deliberately click on links that make it hard for the personalization engines to pigeonhole you. Make yourself difficult to stereotype.
  • Erase your browser history and cookies from time to time.
  • Use an “incognito” window for exploring content you don’t want too much of later.
  • Use Twitter instead of Facebook for news. (Twitter doesn’t personalize.)
  • Unblock the Status Updates of your friends that Facebook has already blocked. Click the “Edit Options” link at the bottom of your Facebook News Feed. The dialog box will show you who is being blocked. You can hide or un-hide each friend manually, or unblock everybody. This dialog box affects only what comes from friends to you. It does not affect what your friends see of your posts.
  • Every week or so, post something and then ask the Facebook friends you really care about to go “Like,” comment and click. This activity should prevent Facebook from censoring your comments later for these people.
Written By
Kelvin Newman is Creative Director at SiteVisibility and specialises in achieving natural search results and producing link-worthy online content, working with a variety of brands including the RSPCA & uSwitch.
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