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Will the Filter Bubble Render Social Bookmarking Obsolete?

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Will the Filter Bubble Render Social Bookmarking Obsolete?

I don’t know – I’m just asking.

The Context

For clarification, the “Filter Bubble” is a term coined by Eli Pariser referring to the practice of search engines (most notably Google which enjoys the largest market share) tailoring search results to each individual user using an algorithm that takes into account that user’s online behavior (Pariser’s TED Talk on the subject is available here – recommended watch).  So depending on what sites I regularly view, what terms I search for, how long I spend on pages, whether or not I hit the “back” button immediately after viewing a page – the results I will see are different from the results you will see.  The concern expressed by Pariser is that it’s further helping us insulate ourselves away from people and ideas that are different from our own, allowing us to live in a self-reinforcing “bubble.”  Beyond cramping our ability to broaden our outlook, there are also nefarious possibilities – that, for example, those in charge of the algorithms that power search results could quietly weed out unflattering content or the content of competitors.

Social Bookmarking” is a practice facilitated by a variety of platforms and tools in which individual users curate the limitless content of the web by adding their own categories, terms, tags, keywords, and even annotations based on how they perceive that content.  So, for example, if I go to Slashdot – I know that I will see “news for nerds” whereas if I use Digg – I will see more entertainment-themed content with a specific philosophical/political bent applied to it.  (The brilliant satirical site Uncyclopedia has particularly hilarious send-ups of both Slashdot and Digg that illustrate their nuances.)

The Future of Social Bookmarking

Here’s how my train of logic goes:

A. Social Bookmarking and the Filter Bubble accomplish essentially the same end – delivering content that is more relevant to “me” when I go online.

B. As a great many web users are not inclined to regularly create content (many prefer to simply experience it as this Pew Study illustrates), it stands to reason that the Filter Bubble is more appealing as a way of encountering content than using a Social Bookmarking platform simply because it’s a passive act.  That is to say, relying on the Filter Bubble requires no effort whereas researching, evaluating and participating in a Social Bookmarking platform requires exponentially more effort.

C. Same Result + Less Effort = Advantage Filter Bubble

Ultimately I think Social Bookmarking will never truly go away, but it could be at a turning point in terms of its evolution online (where it will fall from mainstream use and become a niche tool that serves a small fragment of the population).  There are also broader implications for this reality as browsers, search engines, and social networking sites jockey for control of the web.

Facebook has been aggressive in attempting to hold/own as much online content as possible (if you’ll notice, many of the message boards that used to be hosted individually by local news websites are now controlled by Facebook).  Google is upping the ante given that it already has control of far more content than Facebook (it owns YouTube for example) and has launched its own social networking platform (Google+).  How long before search, local listings, social networking, social video, social bookmarking and everything else online becomes part of one seamless experience in Google?  With Google+ the process has begun already.

If we step even farther back and look at the picture, all of the acquisitions of the major players (Google and Facebook) are driving toward this end – controlling the important access points to the web because it’s financially-advantageous.  If one looks at a list of these critical access points, the discussion becomes even more interesting: Search, Social Networking, Browser, Mobile Device – and one begins to see how outmatched Facebook is against Google:

  • Whereas Facebook‘s empire is primarily limited to Social Networking and Search…
  • Google dominates Search, has its own Browser (Chrome – which just eclipsed Firefox in use), and has its own mobile operating system (Android) AND owns a mobile device company (Motorola).  It now also has its own nascent Social Networking Platform (Google+).

Where am I going with all of this?  I don’t know – but it’s interesting to try and lead the technological tea leaves.

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