TED Conversations

David Wees

Mathematics Teacher, Stratford Hall

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Is the current direction of the web Democratic?

While I agree with Roger that his vision of the future of the web is where we are headed, I would like to argue that it is wholly unDemocratic. The control panel version of the Internet is disturbing, because it seems to me that we have become willing to sacrifice the ability to control what we view and interact with for the convenience of other people making that decision for us.

Facebook and Google's algorithms to filter what we view based on our preferences means that, through the algorithms they have written, corporations have more control over the information we receive than ever before. The definition of fascist corporatism (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporatism#Fascist_corporatism) is "management of sectors of the economy by government or private organizations." In an information technology age, management of information is management of the economy, and we are letting private corporations manage entirely too much of our information.

We know where the road of fascism leads us. We need to take a step back from that road and find a new path.


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  • Nov 12 2011: I don't see the problem with result-filtering. However, I do see a point with being able to configure it, because, and this is a key point, sometimes the results that have been found for me through my habits are not the ones I want at this moment. They may, for this moment, be irrelevant to my interests.

    Google is very clear with one of their aims (read their financial report for more, you can google it):
    "We provide users with products and services that enable people to more quickly and easily find, create, and organize information that is useful to them. "

    My point is that I use google as a middleman between "knowing what I'm searching for" and "reading what I want". For this, no other search engine comes close. I remember back in 2000-2001 when I started using the internet, when searching for something, I went through three different search engines (yahoo, altavista and google, thought at first I didn't know about google), each engine only provided one or two links remotely relevant to my interests. Over time, I dropped Yahoo, it didn't give me what I wanted, later on, I dropped Altavista, because Google was the only one that consistently provided the sites I was searching for.

    If some other engine comes along that more consistently provides me with what I'm searchinig for, I'd be willing to switch instantly. I'm not loyal to google in that I trust them to be the judge of what I should read, it's just very convenient.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for new ways of doing things. I'd probably love a search engine that regularly incorporates new and different ideas and variations of my searches into the result, but a lot of the times I'm using the engine as a middleman, then I only want the straight up; "This is probably what you'd like to read"-answer.
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      Nov 12 2011: One of the problems is, a bit of randomness in your search means that you occasionally get exposed to ideas to which you are not accustomed. When your search results are entirely personalized for you, you get results that are not as likely to expose you to the many different perspectives on how the world works. Instead of the various factions that inhabit the Internet being exposed to each other regularly, you bump into each other only very occasionally, and forget that other perspectives exist.
      • Nov 13 2011: My point was that maybe those personalized results are the ones I'm most interested to see. If i search for "polytheistic religions" I would throw google out of the window very quickly if it linked me to local churches, asked me if I haven't considered converting to Islam or if I have considered that maybe there is no god at all. It was never the reason I visited the site to begin with.

        The thing I like with google is that it's very good at providing exactly the most relevant sites available on the net for my particular search terms. If it didn't, it wouldn't be a very good engine at all!
        If you search the index of your computer for "Iron Maiden", would you like the search results to include "lady gaga" as well?

        I'm open to the idea of a different search engine, but I probably wouldn't use it when mainly searching for information.

        But say that you have the control over facebook, how would you filter the information for people recieving 2000 status updates over the course of a day? The most personally relevant ones does not sound like such a bad idea, me thinks!
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          Nov 13 2011: It would not be that difficult to create some filters that allow more flexibility and self management of data - the point being there is no real commercial advantage - so it would have a low priority.

          The best way to filter is the same as with twitter. Just don't log on.

          I enjoyed early browser flexibility where Google arose but I appreciate their attempts at context sensitivity. The trouble is that cognitive science of web user experience is hugely complex and diverse - developers use information architecture that often is created out of just a few use case scenarios and a bit of pre modelled patterning. For this reason - validating the IA of any web or software application use can be redundant unless you really research with full ethnographic and understanding the 'who what where why and how' of understanding humans interaction with software applications. The best safeguard is to build in a bit of high level self designing flexibility - i.e. include some more useful sensitivity built in but also give the user some soft options for creating their own user environment - that is if they ever want it as a real desktop.

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