The Internet has made the world a global village. One where it matters no more where you live to be connected with people. It takes less time to share your thoughts with people that are with you digitally than those that you may run into physically. Location based personalization aside, everyone around the world can read the same news, get the same results when they search on a topic, see the same updates on Facebook and so on. What exactly is this doing to our diversity?
Eli Parser discusses Filter Bubbles in his TED Talk and discusses how the Internet may be killing our diversity in opinions. The more a page gets viewed, the higher its rank gets; the higher its rank, the earlier it appears in search results; the earlier it appears, the more it gets viewed – this certainly can be a diversity killer. This is more of an issue with social opinions and content – nobody wants to be that guy (gal) that stands out with a controversial opinion. I do wonder about just how much Quora’s algorithms are able to extract and get visibility to the under-viewed and yet good content. The reality is that the more upvotes an answer gets, it is likely to continue getting more upvotes in future. Facebook and G+ are no exceptions. Our friends’ likes on a picture make us want to stop and look at it – and more often than not, we may end up liking it too.
Let’s look at the physical world here. This phenomenon was certainly always present, but it was localized. The Internet has taken a local phenomenon and made it global. Is this a problem? In more dimensions that we can imagine, this is generally a good thing. It has reconnected us with lost friends and has made the world a smaller place. But the culprit here seems to be the increasing consumption of content online. We used to have several sources of content in the past – newspapers, magazines, television, etc. Increasingly, it is all converging to be online. Our ranking algorithm was previously via word-of-mouth recommendations. A friend asked us to check something out – in the process, we found something else and asked someone to check that out. There was scope for interesting discovery. We talked about opinions in smaller circles – there was room for potentially having varied opinions and not being the loner.
Now we are online and our opinions are too. When we say something, it is visible to a large audience, all at once (unless you have extraordinary patience to compartmentalize your audience).
Are we slowly killing the power of having different points of view? If we are, that would also kill creativity and it will become a threat to innovation. Before that happens, our algorithms need to start having a measure of interesting and good that is independent of likes/views/votes so that we can take the road less traveled sometimes.