Something insidious is happening when you search Google, or turn to Yahoo News for information, or your Facebook page for updates.
You’re not getting the results you want or need. You’re getting the results that these services think you want. Even though I happen to do quite a bit of search around the terms green building and sustainability for a client, I’m hardly a sustainability expert.
But the other day, when I searched Google for “sustainability” I showed up on page one of the SERPs. Not any of the leading sustainability consulting firms nor the numerous global companies that are committed to sustainability and earning the coveted LEED standard of building performance. So what’s going on?
The Bubble Filter
This phenomenon was dubbed the “bubble filter” by Eli Pariser who discusses it in this TED video and in his book The Bubble Filter – How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think.”
As he says in this TED talk, the sites you search are “…doing this kind of invisible, algorithmic editing of the Web. If I search for something, and you search for something, even right now at the very same time, we may get very different search results. Even if you’re logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at — everything from what kind of computer you’re on to what kind of browser you’re using to where you’re located — that it uses to personally tailor your query results.
“Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore. And you know, the funny thing about this is that it’s hard to see. You can’t see how different your search results are from anyone else’s.”
Do You Want Personalized Results?
If you already know a lot about a subject but are looking for different points of view, say on green buildings, you don’t want to see your own content, or content you’ve retweeted or reposted on a social network, to get fed back to you. At least I don’t. I want to see what I don’t know, not what’s been personalized for me based on algorithms that are unfathomable to most of us.
Just as an example, I asked a friend to do a search for “cures for kidney disease.” She’s had a kidney transplant so I suspected our results would differ. They did. On our first pages there was only one duplicate result.
Google, Facebook and other social networks place advertising next to your search results based on what it thinks your interests are and what they think you might buy. So it’s likely this trend of personalization will accelerate.
I’ve been lulled into believing that with the Internet I have the world of information at my fingertips. But it turns out it’s a world created for me by search engines.
How do you feel about this trend? Are you getting the search results you want or what the search engines decide to send you?