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The downside of content personalisation

In digital agencies, we love content personalisation. It makes us look smarter in front of clients and hopefully keeps things a bit more interesting for the people we’re trying to communicate with. But there’s also a downside to excessive personalisation – or at least that’s the message Eli Pariser made in his fascinating TED talk on the ‘filter bubble’ (thanks to Eduardo and Mervyn for sharing this).

Pariser describes how content providers like Google are increasingly personalising the information we see based on how likely we’ve been to click on similar topics in the past. The downside being that over time we see just the lazy stories that we like to read (eg What Justin Bieber thinks about the Royal Wedding), rather than the important events we should be aware of (eg the uprising in Egypt).

Pariser focuses on the impact of personalisation on news, but there’s also an important cultural implication. If what we consume becomes purely based on past behavior, over time we run the risk of creating a positive feedback loop where our tastes and attitudes become increasingly narrow and self-reinforcing. The fact that you’ve never visited a Vietnamese restaurant doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy the experience when you stumble on one.

The flipside of this argument is that we’ve always gravitated to information sources that resonate with our own world view – think Fox Sports or the UK’s Daily Mail. Furthermore, where once we only had a handful of TV channels, newspapers and local radio stations to form our opinions from, the internet now offers us access to attitudes we’d never of previously seen or heard about.

But it all comes down to our willingness to look for them. Personalisation has come about because most of us need help in making sense of the paralyzing volume of information available online. And in this way, it often helps us discover things we’d perhaps otherwise not have considered, for example Amazon’s recommendations.

If Google becomes our only frame of reference, there’s no doubt that Pariser’s vision is a chilling one. But ultimately it’s up to us to look beyond a single source of information and keep exploring.

Seagull Vs chip – Google Street View’s accidental heroes

If you live in the UK you may have already seen this, but I thought it was too good to ignore…

Last week I stumbled across this superb Google Street View image capturing an audacious seagull making a quick getaway after stealing a chip in John Street, Brighton.

As a former Brighton resident, I think it provides a great insight into what it’s like to live there. If you were to scroll round to the right you’d notice that the theft occurred right outside Brighton Police Station – I assume the police were too busy dishing out ASBOs to intervene…

For more of Street View’s accidental heroes check out this collection from the Huffington Post.

UPDATE 14/05/2010: Interestingly Google (under pressure from Brighton & Hove City Council?) seem to have photoshopped out the offending seagull from StreetView, so I’ve replaced it with a screenshot.

Using Google to reveal what matters to us most

Dan Ariely’s blog highlights how Google’s autocomplete can be used to reveal some interesting insights about what matters to us most:

“For better or for worse, Google’s obsession with collecting and refining data has given us a window into each other’s fascinating and telling curiosities.”

Ariely’s above example suggests how automplete could be used to identify key concerns around brands or political leaders. But perhaps just as interesting is which of those phrases Ariely was searching on in the first place…

Google: the limitations of design by data

The recent departure of Google’s Head Designer, Doug Bowman, has sparked a flurry of debate across the internet on Google’s design philosophy.

Google’s ability to efficiently harness information has been central to its success as a search engine.

However, there are question marks over whether an over-reliance on data in design has hampered Google’s visual identity and ultimately its ability to create a brand that people will pay for.

Google’s Magical Mystery Tour

Ever-committed to preserving the work-life balance, Google has let some of its employees off Softball practise for a few weeks and instead packed them off on a bus tour of Northern India.

The bus set off from Chennai on 3rd Feb, with the hope that it will end up in Tiruvannamalai [yes, I had to paste that one] on 13 March. Along the way, it will be spreading the gospel of the web and how it can be used for information, education and entertainment, with services in both English and Tamil.

Check out the videos on Google’s official Internet Bus site – looks like they’re having fun. 

You may also be interested in my post about LifeTools – Nokia’s latest initiative to engage communities in rural India.