Just today an interesting story came up on a German news site which goes back to Eli Pariser’s (Homepage, follow @Twitter ) talk on TED about a thing he calls the Filter Bubble and how personalization is changing the Internet. Before commenting on his talk I want to personally thank him to use his reputation and start a discussion on such a fundamental and important topic!

UPDATE most likely you are looking for my list of almost 57 signals google might use to filter
I had a short Mail conversation with Eli. He asked me to temporarly remove his TED talk since his book isn’t on sale yet. I found a very similar talk by him which he allowed me to make public in my blog. So here you go folks:

Google is filtering and personalizing search results

Eli is pointing out a thing some people might have already noticed. If two different people search for the same thing on Google it is very probable that the search results will be very different. Google is doing this without telling the user that it is acutally filtering the results based on what the algorithm thinks the user might like. According to Eli Pariser Google is using 57 signals to determine the interest of us. Among those we find:

Of course this kind of personalization has its good sides. When I am about to buy a new notebook computer y I definitely want to see different Websites if I live in Germany or in the US. This could be due to tax and shipping fees. Which means that I am most probably interested in local stores and not in oversea shops. Still this personalization and filtering is a huge potential for serious problems. Let me ask a few questions:

  • What happens if Google misinterprets our 57 signals?
  • What happens if I only receive results from a certain type?
  • What if I rely to the fact that I have access to all kind of information?

We might think we get all the information we need. But in reality we are becoming blinded by the filters Google is using. We have no chance to determine what other information is filtert and potentially available for a certain topic. On the other hand due to the amount of information we need filters and computers to help us. But the systems should be more transparent!

Facebook is also filtering the newsstream from your friends:

I have always been thinking Facebook’s huge success is strongly correlated to the fact that there is hardly Spam on Facebook and the information economy is very smart and user friendly. The attention of users to status updates is very high making facebook a great place for every company to do online and viral marketing. This of course contributes to Facebook’s reach. In fact the information architecture on Facebook is even so smart that your 20’000 followers on Facebook might not receive your status updates since Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm decides it is not relevant to your fans or friends. Edgerank might not have 57 signals but it still takes into consideration:

  • who your fans are friend with
  • what other news they like
  • how heavy they have interacted with you in the past
  • the time passed since your last status update

Great news isn’t it? Just compare this with my statement in a recent blog post about creating newsletters as a musician in order to communicate with your fans and not solely rely on other services like Facebook or MySpace.

You don’t believe the Facebook thing? There is a video about the EdgeRank algorithm used by Facebook to determine which status updates should reach us and which shouldn’t. Feel free to have a look and thanks to the guys from Klurig Analytics for producing such a great video resource:

So what can we do?

  1. We should join the discussion in order to pursue Google, Facebook and others to become more transparent.
  2. We should be aware of the fact that a lot of information might not reach us.
  3. Even though more and more information is made available through the Internet we should not become lazy and rely on all these great web services.
  4. Last but not least you can help to spread the information about this topic! As we have seen only if a lot of people spread the information it breaks through the filtering system. And this topic is worth to be spread!

Again thanks a lot to Eli Pariser to start this discussion!

If you like this post, you might like these related posts:

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  3. Propaganda, filtering and blocking by Facebook? The discussions about the ethics of facebook are old and...
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16 Comments on Algorithmic Information Filter from Eli Pariser’s TED Talks

  1. René G says:

    Hi René,

    thank you for picking up this topic. I strongly agree that the filtering becomes more and more common, but also obvious, if you just keep your eyes open.

    The updates I see about my facebook friends are biased. Sometimes I search for a friend, because I just did not see popup anything about him for quite long time and then I’m surprised about the results. It’s obvious to me, but not necessarily to everyone.

    Google search results are good and better then most of the other search sites. Nevertheless I always also have the feeling I don’t get a wide view on a topic, but a rather specific one. Although I use my browser in private mode, no scripts, anonymous whatsoever, there is still enough data to “personalize” my results.


    • René Pickhardt Rene says:

      The Problem is that sometimes it might not even be personalization but just the lack of knowledge how to diversify the search engine results. Understanding ambigiouties in a query and presenting most relevent results from each topic seems to be a current research topic that – as far as I know – hasn’t been fully or satisfying solved yet.

  2. Martin Thoma says:

    Hi René,

    I was aware of the fact that I get personalized search results, as I use the Chrome addon for a personalized block list (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nolijncfnkgaikbjbdaogikpmpbdcdef). I thought my results were filtered by language, so I get german results first if possible. But I didn’t know that 57 resources for information about me were used to filter my results.

    By the way, here are my search results for “egypt”: http://www.flickr.com/photos/6.....522295531/

  3. Martin Thoma says:

    I tried a search in Google with the computer of my father. We have the same ip, but he has Windows 7 and I have Linux. Our interests are quite different: http://www.flickr.com/photos/6.....522358707/

  4. @search engine filtering:
    You have already touched upon both pro and con of the filtering — without filtering (or sorting, for that matter), search engines would be useless. With filtering, we might not even see all sides of a topic. It is thus paramount that whenever searching for information about something, we use multiple sources to gather relevant information about the topic.

    Search engines are, of course, both a blessing and a curse — the sheer amount of information available on the Internet would hardly be accessible without the likes of Google & co.

    @facebook filtering
    Again, the key concept here is not filtering OUT what FB doesn’t want you to see, but filtering IN what FB thinks you might want to see. In contrast to Google, this is also fully transparent if you want it — simply switch to the “Most Recent” feed instead of the “Top News” feed. In fact, I think this concept of two news feeds has not been in place for that long; it is quite a new feature of the FB platform.

    What I personally find more concerning than the personalization of search results and news feeds is the personalization of Ads across domain boundaries, using information that was gathered in some totally different context — e.g. that after I have searched for some computer gadget on a specialized shopping site, I get displayed ads for that gadget even on totally unrelated sites that I happen to visit later.

    • René Pickhardt Rene says:

      @search engines filtering:
      As you know I am a strong fan of Google but I think it is important to know and understand what is going on when people use it. I would have been surprised if you weren’t aware of the pro and con’s of search engines. But I am not convinced that this is true for everyone. That is why I wanted to follow eli’s discussion

      @facebook filtering: Here the Problem is (and I think you should also know this from metalcon experience) that according to Facebook 95% of the users don’t choose and just take the top news. Another Problem is that Facebook algorithms think they know what to filter IN and that might be wrong.

      @advertising: That is a very good point. I just read a paper about how the ad market could benefit if computers would better understand the semantics of webpages.
      But I think the ads on the internet will be even “better” if Facebook uses its knowledge to deliver ads to webmasters just like Google adsense. (As far as I know they have no public plans for this now. But knowing which users together with their other interestes like certain websites makes the delivery of ads in my oppinion much more targeted than Google Adsense)
      I will probably write an article about this soon.

  5. René G says:

    Facebook tries to figure out what you want to see. That’s right. The question is: who is driving? The algorithm could become more and more biased over time changing your thinking of what is important. This is nothing “evil” now. But maybe later?
    It’s about what the general user perceives as correct, true or wanted. People talking here know how to use these tools, but does everyone do so?

    Actually I just switched off the filter feature on facebook so I see all my friends updates again. Quite a difference now.

  6. [...] experience. Facebook first started to filter the news stream on their site which lead to the widely spread discussion about their ironically called EdgeRank algorithm. Many users seem to be unhappy with the user [...]

  7. [...] amerikanische Internet-Aktivist Eli Pariser identifizierte 57 verschiedene Faktoren, mit denen der Suchmaschinenkonzern seine Nutzer erfasst [...]

  8. [...] my blog post on Eli Pariser’s Ted talk about the filter bubble became quite popular and a lot of people seem to be interested in which 57 signals Google would use [...]

  9. [...] « Algorithmic Information Filter from Eli Pariser’s TED Talks » par René Pickhardt, le 13 mars 2011 This entry was posted in Informatique géographique by perso2011. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  10. [...] the way we do business. And with new features on Facebook and the somewhat social Google +, even the algorithms of our social networks and our streams are being [...]

  11. [...] I liked the comic and I think it really demonstrates the importance of a software like this. So I am really looking forward to see how typology will evolve. It also demonstrates the fallbacks of personalization of everything. In this sense I think there is also a hint to the filter bubble [...]

  12. Sören Andersen says:

    This is indeed a relevant topic, and a topic that needs businesses etc. need to have more awareness about.

    Especially companies advicing/ selling expertice on media channeling etc. should be more out in the open about this.

    How much exposure do x company get e.g.!

    I myself think personalization, is a good thing and needed due to information overload….

    Someone just need to make these “nerdy” hard to understand algorytms tastyyy :p and I think this topic will get way more attention :)

  13. 過濾氣泡 says:

    [...] 哦對了,臉書也有過慮氣泡… http://www.rene-pickhardt.de/a.....lks/關於 Joseph Chiang分享Facebook更多Google +1PinterestTumblrTwitter ← [...]

  14. [...] Eli’s talk on TED and my recent article about the filter bubble I decided to dig a little deeper into Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which decides what [...]

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