It’s probably fair to say that it’s only people like me that remember Google’s announcement in a blog in December 2009 that had the title: Personalised Search For Everyone”. 

I knew it was coming, and I remember thinking this would change everything. From that point, onwards Google used 57 signals (which include things like what browser you’re using. 

What location you are logging in from, what you’ve searched for before etc.)  Evaluate your search trends and estimate the types of sites you’re interested in. 

Initially, this was only for people logged in; however, it wasn’t long before people who logged out would be tracked.

The idea was to make the search results more personal to your requirements – the fabled personalization of search. 

No more standardized Google. This personalized Google aims to deliver better quality sites suited to your requirements. The websites get a better click-through and more converting traffic, so everyone’s a winner, right?

Well, yes and no. Google is probably the number one place people search for information.  It’s somewhere where you get your world view from, imagine for one minute if you only ever read things you agreed with.

 If you were never challenged in your views, you’d be incredibly insular, and your worldview would give you tunnel vision.  Now imagine a world where everyone’s worldview is determined in the same way, never challenged, just reaffirmed day after day.

Imagine you’re a climate scientist, and you search for a specific piece of research.  This research is diametrically opposed to your own viewpoint; however, you must review the content to put your case forward forcefully in the future.

However, that one act of curiosity may tell Google that you favour the view of the piece, suddenly daily, you are confronted with arguments against what you used to believe – how long is it before you start to form new beliefs based on the ideas put in front of you?

Most people don’t even realize that Google is doing this; most believe that search engines are unbiased benevolent information overlords. 

In fact, they are the mechanism of a corporation with billions of dollars worth of plans.

The Personalization Era

The unremarkable announcement was made through Google’s blog in December 2009.  

Which was only really picked up by a hand full of us search engine marketing types have dramatically changed the world we live in and how we receive information. 

If we live in the Information Age, the Personalization Era started on the 4th December 2009.

Why do search engines like personalization?

It’s important to realize that when the Internet first came into being, it was an anonymous medium in which the user actively participated. 

As that medium has matured, the principal revenue stream on the Internet (advertising) has directed the way it has developed. 

Websites owners collect masses of information about who you are. What you do is sell more products to you in the most qualified (therefore efficient) manner possible.

You think the Internet is free. The internet giants are giving you a good service for nothing. In fact, the likes of Google, Facebook, Bing, Apply, etc., are charging you. You’re paying for their assistance in data, specifically data about yourself.

Why do internet companies collect so much information?

Most of the big boys have promised to keep this data to themselves for now. 

But there are plenty of sites out there that are taking hold of your data and selling it on.

 Every single click you make on the web can be sold to the highest bidder as reliable personal data about you.

It’s a straightforward formula the most personal data. The better chance of making you click on an advertisement or buy a product. This is, after all, how the Internet has been monetized.

This isn’t just about the big guys, though. A website that doesn’t offer a personalized service will seem antiquated to the user in the next few years.

It wouldn’t be so bad if this collation of data just shaped what we buy in the way the traditional marketing mediums did. Still, it’s more than that because it’s applied across the spectrum of information on the web.

Think about Facebook for a moment. The news feed you receive daily is personalized, the most recent news from the people and the subjects you’re interested in already. 

These feeds on social media websites are fast becoming one of the most common ways people find out up to the minute news.

Ultimately, the algorithms put in place to sell more advertisements are beginning to surreptitiously manage and direct our lives.

Prediction Engines and Passive Media Individualism

It’s probably about time we stopped calling the likes of Google and Bing search engines; they’re much more than this. 

They are prediction engines; they look at what you’ve done, what people like you have done and then try and extrapolate a prediction about what you are going to do and what you’re interested in. 

Your interaction with the prediction engines alters the way you come into contact with ideas of the day. 

What’s more, this is different from how we have consumed media in the past because this is about us. We aren’t part of the herd of media consumption before. You might think of this as Media Individualism.

Also, when you interact with traditional media, you know there are biases’, and you accept that. 

If you buy a newspaper, it may be because you agree with that point of view. However, in the new Personalization Era, you are convinced that search engines are a force for unbiased good in the world. 

There is no way for you to let Google know that it’s got you all wrong in the way it perceives your interests and who you are. 

Basically, there is no way with Media Individualism based on algorithmic processes to determine the overall bias of the information you are reviewing (as it interacts with other pieces of information you’re studying).

Think about the information you’re receiving and how you are interacting with it. Is it changing the way you live your life, the choices you make, the person you are? Ultimately, it is. Your own Passive Media Individualism is directing you.

This is determinism at work, information determinism. The odd stray click or erroneous junk/search can reshape your entire destiny. Your views become progressively narrower and narrower. You become a caricature of your former self – worse still, so does everyone else.

woman reading a book for blog by GrowTraffic on how to get readers to your blog

The Language of the Personalization Era

The language of the Personalization Era is also shaping the things we see and review. 

Who’s going to “Like” a massacre or some other adverse event? It’s easier to “Like” your mate’s, mate’s clip on YouTube, posted on Facebook, in turn, making it more likely to be picked up by your social media contacts. 

All were working towards reducing the scope of your worldview to things that you find pleasant or amusing.

How many times have you retweeted or tweeted some pointless drivel?.

The fact that the creators of Twitter chose to name it in a manner that has harmful or at least frivolous connotations instructs the user not to take it too seriously. Although the Arab Spring claims to have started on social media channels, Twitter was not seen as a forum for serious debate.

Google has recently moved into this “Like” sphere allowing you to engage in the personalization process directly (without fully understanding what it means). 

Google has created the +1 button that is being furiously added to websites worldwide. 

However, these buttons are regardless of becoming known as Like buttons – in this respect, it would appear Facebook has already won the Like button arms race.

The Personalization Era Society

When everyone’s views get more insular, some funny things could start to how our society is shaped.

 Usually, we are forced to mix with various people from various walks of life, which is where opportunities arise for development. 

In the Personalization Era, you meet fewer people with differing views of yourself. 

This is quite the opposite of how it was envisaged the Internet would work back at the start of the internet boom at the turn of the century.

It’s essential to recognize that if we don’t meet people that aren’t like ourselves, we start to build up a sense of “us and them” and lose our perception of the public sphere of which we are an active part.

It’s much more than getting rid of the irrelevant, which the algorithms originally intended to do. What you like isn’t always what you want or need.

The Internet can still be the egalitarian world crisis solving meta-brain that was envisaged by its founders; however, before we get there, we need to start to understand as users of the Internet how it works and why it works in that manner. 

We need to ensure that we wake up and don’t walk any further down the road of the Personalization Era without deciding how we want to interact with the Internet and the global village as a whole.

We need to understand that there are agendas at work here. They will directly impact our perception of the world, the way we live our lives, our culture, and our future.

Since the start of the industrialization process, we have perceived a reduction in the size of the world, perceiving time getting faster space decreasing as roads become superseded by canals, railways, and aeroplanes.

 Instantaneous forms of communication such as emails, telephones and texts perpetuated this trend. As a result, personalization threatens to make the world seem a vast, scary and tribal place once again.

The Personalization Era: Determinism and Passive Media Individualism

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Comments

  1. Very interesting take on this – it’s similar in some ways to Eli Pariser’s book The Filter Bubble, however your focus on passive media determinism / individualism puts a different slant on things.

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