Saturday, June 11, 2011

Floo network

I was typing an address into the Chrome address bar when I realised just how much like the Floo Network Chrome is. I start typing an address, and by the time I finish typing I would have gone through ten other websites which were on the way, just getting a glimpse of each before moving on to my final destination. 

There were important differences too though. The glimpses of places one gets on a journey through the Floo are the same for everyone, as long as they are all going from point A to point B. Not so for Chrome: Google has started personalising. The journey Chrome takes one on the way to one's destination is unique to the person using it. A journey that is supposed to be random, still random, but a controlled personalised randomness. More than that, I've realised that even the destination is unique to the person using it when using the search function: this, I came to know from Eli Pariser's talk about 'filter bubbles' on TED.

While I like the idea of not having to sort through the junk that appears when a search is not personalised, I do have to acknowledge the problem Pariser highlights in his talk as a serious one. A filter personalising and editing out information based on our past choices creating a bubble, hence restricting us from getting the information outside it because we didn't seek to access the information in the past. The problem more worrisome in its insidiousness, because we just cannot see the information that's gradually being edited out, and it is hard to complain, because we are being shown exactly we want. 

Of course, the situation is not as bad as it could be yet, but with increasing personalisation everywhere, it might be eventually. 



  1. I saw that TED talk and thought about this aspect of google's personalization. But I think there is another perspective which is being completely overlooked, and it is about specialization.

    There used to be a time where you had to be a jack of all trades to survive. But our complex information technology and economic system allows us to specialize in one skill or knowledge base, explore and get good at it, and depend on others for other needs. The advancement of our civilization depends on such cooperation.

    Similarly, lets talk about information. Our knowledge base is so vast, that even though it is accessible to everyone, it is virtually impossible for any single person to comprehend and process the intricacies of every subject. That is why we need experts, and personalized searches only increases the efficiency of these experts.

    It is however essential that experts in different subjects talk to each other and exchange opinions and analysis. We have many other very effective means to do that and that is not the purpose of any search engine.

  2. Hmm, it's not just the search engines, it is the media as well, and as Pariser points out, even social network websites like Facebook. Google is not just a search engine any more either, it is the world's biggest news provider (according to an article I've read, but I don't remember which).

    I have my views on specialisation, but I won't go into that here. But, is it too much to ask for a choice in all this? Can't Google give me an option on whether or not I want a tailored page? It's not that difficult, they can still keep track of what I'm looking at, so if at some point I decide that I want tailored pages again, they can retrieve the info and give it to me. Same goes for Facebook too.

  3. Why not just clear your browser cache, history, cookies, log off from Google services and try getting past the bubble?