If you liked that, then you’ll love this: Eli Pariser on web personalization and the Filter Bubble

In time for the release of his book, The Filter Bubble, on May 16, we wanted to share Eli Pariser’s PopTech related talk from this past October.

In both his talk and forthcoming book, Pariser focuses on how personalization on the web works, for better and for worse. He explores the implications of Google’s low-key announcement back in December 2009 that it had begun customizing search results for users, tailoring results based on whatever it could gather about you online - the friends in your networks, your purchase history, political views, etc. He also examines the dark side of the “If you liked that, then you’ll love this!” adage that is customary on sites like Amazon, Netflix and Pandora.

What is the impact of this individualized information universe, or filter bubble as Pariser calls it, when you search for Obama and get one set of results and your high school age daughter gets another? Yes, it can provide direction and curation amidst the deluge of information we’re overwhelmed with online everyday. But that’s not always a good thing.

As Pariser posits in his talk,  “The problem with the perfectly relevant environment is that it doesn’t have that kind of randomness in it.”  In the landscape of the familiar, we don’t broaden our horizons, get exposed to new ideas, or find an outlet for creative thinking. It limits the news we read, the content we see, and the way we learn. When that open flow of ideas on the world wide web starts to narrow, what is lost?

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