So what is happening to our interweb these days? It’s been several years now since the web evolved into a truly interactive arena. With the advent of blogs, wiks, social networks, eBay selling, Amazon self publishing etc. end users started to became publishers, online retailers, product creators and so on. Effectively the end users of the web started to become the new generators of the web with the smart bigger player simply providing a platform for this to happen. The wonder of user generated content.
This was (and still is) exciting stuff as the result of this new dynamic opened up communication channels and provided platforms for information sharing, collaborations, commerce and much more. This was a technology shift which actually delivered something much broader than new functionality. It gave the power of the internet back to its end users, it connected everyone & provided everyone a platform (multiple platforms) to publish, interact with etc. and in many ways was the first true facilitator of global freedom of speech.
OK I may be getting carried away here and there is obviously some good & bad stuff which has come out of this new dynamic, however I am a believer that this sort of connectivity and free, open access to information has a huge part to play in how we evolve as a species (yes I am getting carried away).
So what is going on now – The Rise of the Machines
One of the biggest problems with this interactive internet is that the sheer volume of content being published is huge & is increasing exponentially. There is an obvious need for smarter technology filters & mechanisms to help users find the right information, qualify quality & so on. This is a big challenge and one that should absolutely sit with the major search engines, social networks etc.
My concern is the approach which some of the big players seem to be taking to solve these problems. I have been aware for some time that Google is personalising my search results and not just based on my location but my search history and various other criteria. I work in the internet marketing space so I should be aware of what is going on here however I doubt the average end user is aware that their online experience is being tailored to them based on their location, web activity etc. Google plus takes this whole thing even further by personalizing results based on personal networks & connection but we will cover that one in a future post.
This all feels a little strange to me and doesn’t quite fit with the ‘globally connected platform’ I described earlier in this post. I came across this video from Eli Pariser which does a far better job at articulating my concerns than I ever could. This is definitely worth watching
Very thought provoking. I personally wasn’t even aware that Facebook were personalising wall content based on your Facebook activity/interactions – ever wondered why you never see updates from some of your friends?
So what are the benefits of this sort of online personalization. Users will be potentially delivered more relevant results, for example results based on their location (local businesses, services etc). They will also be targeted with ads which are more likely relevant to them (based on their location, online behaviour etc), their search experience may be tailored to reflect their interests. Local businesses are certainly a worthy winner from personalization as location based search results give local companies the advantage in their specific geography. I have to say this is definitely a good thing.
From an internet marketing (commercial) perspective it’s like Christmas right now. You can target web users to the Nth degree using the demographic and behaviour based advertising tools made available through Facebook, Google and others. You can even track site visitors and retarget them with ads when they are visiting other people websites.
The bad & the Ugly
The more personalized your online experience becomes the less ‘globally connected’ you truly become to all of the information on the web. It becomes a web of one and your search experience will absolutely be restricted. I may be being dramatic again and its obviously not a clear cut case of good and bad (right and wrong) however I think there are some key questions to ask here.
What are the motivations of the big guys?
Why are they switching on these layers of personalisation by default without asking user permissions?
Why don’t they offer the best of both worlds by giving users the option of global/personalized results?
Are they trying to create great customer experiences, improve the internet, make more profit.?
We would love to hear your thoughts on this.