How the Internet is customized for you

Ever notice that whenever you enter Facebook you see the same people appear over and over again in your newsfeed?  Why are there only a bunch of friends commenting on my pictures/status/events?   How about Google?  Ever notice that when you search for something it brings up things that are relatively close to you?  These are not random things that are happening just because they are.   Search Engines, Social Networks, Online Stores are designed in a way that suites the user in his best interest using algorithms that determine what you want to see.  Or should I say, what they think you want to see.

When the internet first was born it was thought out as a way to connect the world in a free way.  The limitations to what we could see were endless.  To boundaries, borders or limitations to see what the world was doing.   You could easily see a webpage hosted in another country and the only limitation would be language.   If you searched for something, say and opinion about some political happenings, you only had to go to Altavista, Webcrawler, Yahoo and you would get all sorts of results from around the world.     Nowadays we only have access to certain markets, limiting ourselves to what the internet gurus around the world want us to see.  Sometimes when you want to see, lets say a video about abortion, or another delicate theme, from a chinese perspective.  You’ll probably get a message in Youtube that reads something in the light of “This Video is not available in your country”  or “The User has blocked the viewers in your country from watching this video”.   Some web pages have region oriented content, so that way you can only see what you might/have to be interested in. This sounds pretty similar to what China has been doing in their country doesn’t it?

There is a perfect explanation for all of this by non other than Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO.  A journalist was asking him about all these, his answer was “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interest than people dying in Africa“.      What does this mean?  Let me explain the logic.   Say you have 400 friends in your Facebook page, out of these friends, 300 of them are from different eras in your lifetime.  Some of them are from high school, others are current co-workers, former co-workers, family members, family members in other countries, etc.     Out of these people 30 are currently relevant in your life.  These 60 are close friends, family members, co-workers, relatives that are currently around you.  Facebook sorts this out so you don’t have to be seeing things all these 400 “friends” are doing.    It just shows you what it thinks is relevant to you in this particular moment.   Facebook allows you to “suscribe” to certain friends.  This is a way to keep you connected with people you are interested in but aren’t directly involved at this moment.  Its a way to let you customize what they already customized themselves.

Google does this too.  If I search for something and you search for the same thing at the same time, we will get different results.    Google uses 50+ signals to determine what to show you.  Things like the type of computer you are using, where are you sitting, what country, city, zip code.   If you are using your mobile phone, tablet, desktop computer or laptop.    This way it gives you what a person like you might want to see.      Lets say you make a search in Google that says Argentina,  maybe in your page you’ll get results concerning political news, soccer results; and in my page I’ll get travel pictures, guides, vacation packages.   It all depends on what things you look at the most.

Search engine filters work in the same kind of way Facebook works, it gives you what is relevant to you first, then as you browse more and more, you get to see other kind of results.   Filters take away all the things you are not supposed to be interested in, kind of the way editors did back in the day, limiting what they wanted to be published.    Algorithms sort out things you are strongly interested in, some entertaining stuff you might be interested in and some things you are supposed to be interested in.   What you click determines what you’ll get next.

The Internet has now become an encrypted jungle where you hardly get the freedom and connection that was once was the original idea of what it was supposed to be.    The romantic thought that we could read, see, watch, listen what everybody in the world was doing; true freedom of speech and communication.   This is now gone.   We are yet again at the hands of those big brothers that are watching and manipulating everything we are doing on the web.  The sad thing is, we give them the info for free and willingly.

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