By Kevin O'Keefe

Are we the subjects of digital isolation?


We all love what we think we love.

We love Pandora because the application serves up the music we like by the channels we’ve selected and gets better at knowing the music we like the more we use it. We love Zite because it’s a Pandora for content. The application delivers content on the subjects we like from the sources we trust and personalizes the content based on our Twitter activity. Like Pandora, Zite gets better at knowing what we like the more we use it.

Facebook, with it’s algorithms, provides us a tailored news feed based on our friends, our likes, our comments, our shares, and our interests.

Twitter tells us what to discover and who to follow based on who we already follow, what we share, and what is shared by those we follow. LinkedIn does pretty much the same.

But maybe there’s an article we’d love to read or a person we’d live to connect with online that’s outside what we are being fed. You know, the newspaper way of looking at the world – you browse the whole paper and stumble into an article that looks good. An article that none of your friends ‘liked’ or ‘shared,’ yet you enjoyed and gleaned a thing or two from.

Niall Harbison (@NiallHarbison) of Simply Zesty asks a good question. ‘Will the Personalized Web Kill Discovery?’

If we rely too much on personalisation, seeing what an algorithm or publisher has decided we should see, we risk becoming digitally isolated. When our communities and information sources are so carefully constructed, it thereby follows that you would only become exposed to a certain set of information, within your interests, industry of work or personal behaviour.

Harbison’s right about service, solution, and content providers wanting to present you what they think is right for you. With advertising footing the bill, they may be obliged to do so.

There is a temptation for services to take the wealth of information available about you, track your entire online journey and present what they think is right. What about what everyone else is saying? What about when I want to broaden my horizons? Maybe I don’t want to see ads for Italian restaurants following me around online just because I looked at a review of one somewhere. Maybe I want to see something out of the blue because someone, an actual person in the know has determined that it’s good.

Google gets in on the act too, pre-filling your search results.

When I discovered this World Wide Web thing back in 1996 I looked at it as endless journey of links and searches by which I discovered gems of information and people. The communities I discovered allowed me to engage people and build relationships.

Sure I liked ‘My Yahoo,’ but that was pretty rudimentary compared to the personalized Internet served up today.

I am not a privacy nut and I do appreciate the convenience of personalization. I can quickly find what I might like to read or view.

I’m just saying we may be missing out on some gems because of digital personalization as opposed to mining the net like we used to.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Adrigu.

Kevin O'Keefe
About the Author

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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