The Personalization Mirror

Yes, there are calls to kill the news feed. Because we all we see are random, garbagy stories that annoy us, make no sense, seem irrelevant, and insult us, according to Om Malik:
Every afternoon, during lunch, I open up YouTube, and I find myself marveling at the sheer dumbness of its recommendations. Despite having all this viewing data of mine, world’s second most popular search engine is dumb as a brick. It shows me propaganda channels from two ends of the political spectrum. It surfaces some inane celebrity videos. It dredges up the worst material for me — considering I usually like watch science videos, long conversations and interviews, and photography-focused educational videos. YouTube, assumes that like its billion-plus audience I might be pleased with the lowest common denominator.
Om makes it sound like YouTube and by association Google are mindless human-cataloged search engines of the 1990s. Dumb nitwits unworthy of Om's seemingly far higher-brow web history, serving up pablum worthy of the 'lowest common' folk.

I'd love to get a look at dear Om's browser history. If YouTube is serving up this much junk to Om, it's not because YouTube is stupid, my friend. Om, if I may speak directly to you:

YouTube (and Facebook and every other AI-powered newsfeed) knows you, and is a mirror reflecting what you watch across the devices you use. Full stop.

Om, I highly advise you to look at your browser history, to see in actuality what you have viewed in the past 96 hours. While I'm sure there are a few pages of distinction and renowned, it's also likely that the majority of clicks are time-wasting, low quality and low brow sites that you've simply forgotten about. Your complaint about the low quality of your YouTube feed betrays this.

Google doesn't lie, it never lied, and god willing it never will lie. If it shows you junk on your newsfeed, there was similar junk in your browsing history. You just may not like to admit that. 

I just took a look at my YouTube feed, and see a range of compelling, high-quality videos from the likes of L2, Seth Godin, SNL, the Boston Red Sox, the recent royal wedding, TED, and a few legitimate exercise videos from fitnessblender (I'm trying to firm up my abs), all of which is an accurate reflection of my browsing and interests online. 

Even better, my Facebook newsfeed. Now, I may not find it to be as interesting these days, but in fact, it does reflect the state of my past and current friendships. I just don't understand why people accuse Facebook of wrongly showing them junk and one-sided, echo chambers of political and social thought.

The fact is, and I'd just about bet a share of $FB on this, that 'one-sided echo chamber' actually accurately reflects the state of their relationships and political discourse online and in the real world. They just don't want to admit that they've holed themselves up in a virtual club of thinksame, and don't want to admit further that they will refuse any opportunity to dialog intelligently with anyone of an opposing ilk.

When I review my Facebook feed, unlike most every pundit who whines about how Facebook is a political echo-chamber, I see four distinct political views come through loud and clear on most days:

  • Bleeding-heart, ultra-lefties who dot the U.S. and abroad, mainly ex-colleagues and a few acquaintances
  • Thoughtful, liberal-leaning East Coasters who are a mix of friends, acquaintances, and ex-colleagues
  • Plain-spoken, right-leaning and somewhat religious (Christian) friends from high school in Maine
  • Intense, very right-leaning friends from high school who support gun-ownership rights, and are generally anti-immigration and very pro-Trump

I am amazed by the debates and heated arguments that ensue in my newsfeed among my own range of friends, etc. They are debates, and sometimes angry, but never devolve into the inanity of what happens when total strangers rage at each other on Twitter. Among my friends of different political stripes, there remains decorum, and respect, out of having come from the same home town, the same high school, and still sharing some of the same friends.

Again, these are the people I've chosen to remain associated with. Unlike those pundits who rage against the Facebook machine, who clearly have chosen to cloister themselves in seas of sameness of thought.

And with that, I conclude: AI-driven personalization is a mirror. It accurately reflects the reality of what it can see and know about you, your browsing habits, and your social connections. If you don't like what the AI-social mirror reflects back at you, change your habits and biases against associating with people who may have political beliefs other than your own. It doesn't mean you have to agree, or like what they post, but aren't you interested to hear what they have to say?


Popular Posts