Are We Victims of The Filter Bubble?
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Are We Victims of The Filter Bubble?

Posted in Insights — May 25, 2011

This Monday an intriguing email landed in my inbox from a friend, exclaiming about an interview she heard on NPR by Eli Pariser, author of the book The Filter Bubble. Destiny (Social Media? Facebook Filters?) continued to push the book towards me, as I later saw a Facebook post linking to Mr. Pariser’s TEDx presentation.

As an SEO, I’ve always been uncomfortably aware of filters. Google has been filtering results for years. Facebook has obviously always been personally tailored, but we are feeling this even more keenly now with the ramped-up Bing integration.

But my overall viewpoint on filters was, well, filtered. Filtered through a muddled online-marketing lens of what it meant for my clients in terms of positions and traffic.

It never occurred for me to take it personally. Sure, I knew my own results were personalized even if I was “logged” out (whatever that means nowadays – and apparently not much), but I was too involved in my Google Analytics bubble to question how this would affect my worldview.

Eli Pariser raises some extremely important questions in his book that we all need to pay attention to – search engines included. Search engines most of all.

“Think about it for a second,” says Mr. Pariser in his presentation. “There IS no standard Google anymore…. the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

He goes on to show a chilling example of varied SERPs for the term “Egypt”: with one focused on the political crises, and the other only focused on linking to travel sites. Whether you are now on Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google, algorithms are now shaping our worldview – without the human touch of a news editor or journalist. Pariser argues that focusing solely on relevance is dangerous, and that SERPs ultimately should be:

- Relevant
- Important
- Uncomfortable
- Challenging
- Other Points of View

Pariser closes by saying, “We really need the internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us together, to introduce us to new ideas, new people, and different perspectives. But it’s not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of One. ”

Search engine algorithms are evolving all the time. In our quest for relevance, we need to be careful not to eclipse the ultimate promise of the Internet – the quest for INFORMATION.

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