Don’t Let Algorithms Supplant Your Mind


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Earlier this week I watched this TED video by Eli Pariser where he warns people about the long term implications of Internet’s ‘Filter Bubbles’ and how personalized search on the Internet might be narrowing our worldview.

Pariser presents a strong case of how we get trapped in a ‘Filter Bubble’ and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview, which will ultimately prove to be bad for us.

It definitely is a thought provoking argument and probably a peek into what the future holds – millions of ‘personal webs’ within the worldwide web.

As a marketer the most obvious question for me was, where does such a future leave the marketing folks who are trying hard to optimize their use of Internet (search, social media etc.) to reach their target audience.

For web companies like Google and Facebook, it makes a lot of business sense to tailor their services to the personal tastes of their users. It makes their offerings more efficient (at least in their view) as it helps them streamline and present information that is useful and relevant to their users, it also gives them an insight into user behavior around which they build their marketing and revenue generating business models.

But if ‘personal web view’ is the future of Internet, would paid marketing be the only way you can penetrate these personal webs? Where does that leave companies and individuals who depend on non-paid search and social marketing measures to promote their offerings? How different should be their marketing approach to ensure, they are visible to as many personal web views as possible?

Today we take pride that the Internet with its wealth of knowledge allows us to take informed decisions, but are these decisions really unbiased and not influenced by our past online behavior? I am not sure of that one.

The point is do we even realize, the presence of these filter bubbles? Did you realize when your Facebook account automatically changed your settings to such – that you saw updates only from people you frequently interacted with in the past few months? Did you realize when Facebook started using your profile, in an advert to promote a page you liked to influence your network?

It is easy to go with the flow and not question the implications for many of us, and why should it matter, after all personalization and customization is key to customer satisfaction. It gives you a feeling of being pampered, of being important. It gives us a sense of well being, of being right, even though it makes us conservative and narrow minded.

But despite the frills, do we really want algorithms based on assumptions to shape our views and decisions or to decide what is relevant to us?

In an age of information overload, filters are a must to ensure relevant information is presented, but then these filters should be based on the context and relevance of the query and not the personal likings and motivations of the individual seeking the information.

I think predictive technology is great as it empowers businesses to cater to the needs of their customers in a proactive manner than a reactive one, but only when it is used to understand the expressed intent of a user not when it is used to drive his intent. Vendors should do their best to influence their buyers decisions, but should not decide for them, just imagine the repercussions of such a scenario.

As a customer I would like to retain the choice for opting in for any services, I would still like to be the one making the informed choice.

I am not sure of what exactly can be the solution to this problem, but if this is the future of Internet, then as marketers we need to be prepared. We will probably have to divide our target audience into a wider range of personas (beyond age, demographics, income group etc.) and spend more time understanding their behavior and motivations, so that we can present content which bots think is relevant to them.

Future depends a lot on how aware Internet users are about these customizations and personalizations. Awareness, would be key in popping these filter bubbles, as more and more Internet users decide to take control of what they want to consume, rather than being happy with a diet prescribed by bots and algorithms.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Merlin Francis
Merlin Francis is Director of Communications for LeadFormix. Merlin has over a decade of combined experience in the field of print and television Media, PR and Corporate communications. This includes her 3 year stint as an entrepreneur running a successful public relations and event management consultancy.


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