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Are Your Search Results Being Censored?

August 4, 2011 1 comment

 

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

This is one of my favourite TED talks. Eli Pariser discusses Online Filter Bubbles and how this concept is being used by search engines to predetermine and tailor your search results. Searching by relevance is an interesting concept. Interesting and scary.

Forget browser cookies. That’s so Google 2005. Even if you’re not signed into your Google account, it’s estimated that today there are 57 signals that search engines like Google use to personally tailor your search results. Your location, browser, version, ISP, operating system and several more factors are criteria that the algorithm uses to predict what it thinks you want to see. (source: Eli Pariser)

If you’re aware of Google’s real-time search bar, this should be familiar to you. It’s already trying to predict WHAT keywords you’re entering in the search bar & working hard in the background to customize your search results based on those terms. The reality is, you and I can search for the same thing and receive very different results from Google. For example, I cleared my browser’s cookies and history and typed in “golf” in Google’s search bar. Here was my result:

Golf Search ResultAs you can see – based on my location, Google is showing me Golf North as the first search result. Kitchener-Waterloo golf course listings are also showing. What do you see when you search for ‘Golf’?

I mentioned this is both interesting and scary. Having the ability to control what I see on the internet is very ‘Big Brother’ to me.

Why this is interesting:
Adwords & paid search is more efficient. If I’m a golf course in Waterloo, Ontario, running an adwords campaign, I would want my PPC ad budget to be spent on targeting customers who will actually play my course. Based on location, tailored search results could theoretically help focus your adwords budget more efficiently by targeting these people more directly.

Increases more relevant search results. The amount of time you spend looking through pages of less relevant search results is reduced.

Why this is scary:
It blocks the flow of information. Through customized search results, your experience on the internet is effectively being censored. Some information is shown to you based on determined relevance and some is not. The search algorithm determines this.

It can hinder innovation. To stimulate continued innovation, we need to be introduced to new people, new ideas, new concepts and locations. The internet is likely the best and most powerful medium to accomplish this, however personally tailored search results could limit the breadth and depth of information, ideas and concepts you see.

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