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The Problem of a Relevant Web

You can’t see it, yet it affects everyone on the web. Doing it well is the holy grail for sites like Google and Facebook but the better they get the less informed we may become. What is it? The Relevant Web.

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The rise of the Relevance Engine

We are suffering from a digital deluge. Hundreds of daily links, news, blogs, status updates, and photos have overwhelmed our ability to consume content. We are unconsciously seeking a system that assists in cutting through the clutter and we may get more than we bargained for.

Here is how it works:

  1. Search/Social site collects data on you, your usage, and your social connections
  2. Site uses that data to predict what you would find interesting or relevant
  3. You click a search result or comment on a Facebook status and think how useful the internet is
  4. More clicks, more pages, more time = More $$

Simple examples

  • Ever notice how once you defined your family or spouse in Facebook how their posts always seem to appear near the top of your feed? Not accidental.
  • Gmail and Facebook ads are uncannily similar to your recent activity.

Isn’t this a good thing?

Yes, temporarily but we may regret it in the long-term.

Listen to this interview with Eli Pariser, author of “The Filter Bubble” from yesterday’s Diane Rehm Show.

one online pioneer believes we pay a big price for that customized experience – living in our own information universe. In our so-called “filter bubble,” we receive mainly familiar news that confirms our beliefs. And we don’t know what’s being hidden from us

To oversimplify Pariser proposes that Google, Facebook and others bring more visibility into how these algorithms work and provide the users more options to adjust the level of filtering.

The latter part of his argument is most crucial. Most of us would not understand the relevance equations but we should certainly be provided the means to tweak or disable the filtering.

If we are going to trust a company to show us only certain parts of the web shouldn’t we be informed and part of that decision?

Unfortunately few people are aware this is even happening and it will be a good deal longer before they care. Ask yourself how many of your Facebook friends are even aware they can edit the settings of their Facebook feed?

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The relevant web is the next phase of the internet and as we become more educated users companies like Google and Facebook will be forced to respond or it will open the door to competitors.

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