16 6 / 2011
I’ve only just picked up Eli Pariser’s much lauded Filter Bubble and I haven’t really had the time to crack the spine yet, but I was reading an interview he did with Andrew Keen over at Tech Crunch this morning and one particular passage struck me as totally absurd.
“Google and Facebook, sure. And they have a lot of the same, you know, dynamics that are driving what they show people and what they hide from people as the old media did. And so, it’s not quite as much of a free for all as a lot of us hoped. It’s you don’t go direct, you don’t talk to a friend directly on line, you talk to them via Facebook and you don’t, you know, go find a small business, you go through Google.”
Pariser’s makes two points here, that we are not talking directly to our friends and that Google is acting like some kind of big box store filter.
I communicate with most of my friends via Facebook at this point, but where does his filter bubble apply here? I use the Facebook email function the same way I use my gmail or hotmail or enterprise exchange account. The only difference is that my Facebook inbox isn’t cluttered with spam or misapplied reply all messages. AND most of my friends are checking that email box more often than their “regular” address. I’m eager to hear exactly what Pariser hoped for when he envisioned the future of the internet, because unless we’re talking to one another in meatspace, we need some sort of service to connect us.
The second point needs some data behind it, maybe Pariser presents some data in his book, but I find this point wrong in two ways. Personal example time. I recently decided I want to start wearing a watch again (I want my son to know what a watch is) but the battery in my very old watch is dead. I know I can probably go to the nearest mall and go to a Jared and they’ll replace my battery dirt cheap. Or, as a DYI kind of guy, and can get online, use Google, and find the battery I need and probably some tools to do the replacement myself. Instead, I used Google Maps to find the nearest Jeweler. Turns out there is one a block from my office. It’s a tiny little mom and pop shop and it’s probably been there 20 years and I’ve never noticed it before. At lunch I strolled over and had a great chat with the owner, he told me he can replace the battery in 5 minutes, and I spent some time shopping for earrings for my wife. I can apply this to all sorts of things I’ve shopped for, from HDMI cables to a certain Duplo toy I wanted for my son. So In fact, i go to MORE small businesses than ever before. The second argument here is that this is somehow the same as how old media would have kept things hidden from me. The truth of the matter is the old media, the Yellow Pages, would have given me 200 jewelers in DC, and a personal recommendation from a friend would have yielded a single result likely not convenient to where I work. Google actually gave me what I needed AND gave me the opportunity to explore far beyond that filter.
So what exactly are Facebook and Google hiding from me in these instances? The spam from a Nigerian prince and the directions to my nearest Mall? Ok, fine I’ll take it, but you can’t argue that this is just as bad as how things once were.
I think Eli is a wicked smart guy, and lots of people I really respect are saying wonderful things about his book, and to be fair this is one tiny part of an interview about a whole book, but I hope Pariser has more solid arguments than this.