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Filter bubbles – Will tomorrow see the transparent equation of you?

A good ted talk from Eli Pariser on what he calls Filter Bubbles:

He has presented on a growing phenomena which we should all be more aware of, the algorithmic manipulation of digital feeds of information, our “personal web” that I would suggest the majority is oblivious to. Like it or hate it our new digital world is formed by digital giants, machines, bots and the result is fantastic opportunity, a new level of interconnectivity between us with the caveat that it allows scope for both promotion and demotion, at the will of another. In terms of models for media manipulation, I find it just an extension of the previous, a more effective, efficient machine that was already working well with tv, newspapers, advertisements etc. Filters online are in essence a common sense progression, if we skip to the business section of the paper each time do we really need to look through every other page to find it?

The issue of realisation though will have a delay. The mass population will not realise they are not even being shown the rest of the paper for some time, however beyond basic information announcements “this is a filtered feed” I do not see it as the service providers obligation to distinctly highlight their filtering. No doubt complete transparency or a step towards it would be good but the mass majority of users (certainly to online social media) would never pay it attention either way.

It is probably already the case that each of us is becoming more and more resolved as a sum, call it our media consumption dna, our preferences boiled down, resolved to an equation explaining us in the eyes of the services we use. Designed to improve the way they serve us, inadvertently they provide labels, a digital description. In every discourse with a website we help the automated behemoths of programs refine our own equation, from the browser we use, to the time of day we facebook John doe, to the websites we frequent and the words we type.

(I just look forward to facebook announcing transparency and letting us see what we resolve to in their algorithmic eyes!)

The whole idea of the filter bubble is essentially consumerism refined. You are spoon fed things with more and more accuracy, but that’s good right? Depends on the audience. Depends on the controller. Let’s just make sure we don’t all become homogeneous yeah?

Eli makes a good point about remembering to include filters for important, uncomfortable, challenging and outside points of view but therein lies a conflict, as services designed to interconnect people or provide informational services become larger and more popular they become organisms in themselves, organisms which seek survival. This very survival comes down to users in seats. The challenge these services will have is balancing the maintenance of self sustainability with the journalistic ethic, providing users with items outside of the realm of their usual data circle could be seen as a flaw in the algorithm as it could the inverse.

In terms of algorithm design this 10% frill – the wildcard items to be interspersed amongst proven likes is wherein lies the most interesting development. It will be interesting to see how the big giants deal with such wildcard creation and what erroneous items pop up in our feeds. In all probability the bigger systems will risk less in this attempt, wanting to keep its users happy. But that’s fine, people who seek more, difference, expansion, elaboration will seek it, in and out of any given system.

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