Our experience online has changed in recent years. Algorithms have started to make more and more decisions on our behalf. It’s meant to give us more relevant information to suit our needs, but is this way of working actually helping or hindering?
Do you remember the early days of Facebook? When it was just about chatting with your friends and connecting with people that you used to go to school with? There used to be a long continuous thread in chronological order of status updates, and you could go back in time to where you last were and fully keep up to date.
However, as more people began using a larger range of social media platforms for a greater
variation of reasons, things got complicated.
Now when you use Facebook have you ever looked at someone’s post and it says 5 comments but on the thread it only shows 2? I don’t know about you, but I find that a bit annoying. Why can’t I see all 5? Has someone blocked me, have they deleted it? All these questions go through your head. But be assured, it’s not personal. Well, it sort of is. But it’s personal to the decisions that Facebook has made about you.
Google makes decisions about you too. All the time. Like when you’re looking for something and 10 businesses all further away come up ahead of the business you know is just down the road. You don’t find that business until page 6....
What’s Going On?
In the simplest form it’s a series of ifs, buts and whens all deciding in the background what the
program thinks you should want to see. It’s meant to be a good thing. They’re trying to make
your online experience more relevant. If they show you what they’ve decided you want to see
then it’s more likely to encourage you to stay on their platform.
These programs make decisions based on what you engage with and how you interact. They’re watching and learning when you scroll through the feed, and even monitor when you go back or go slower on a post. They know then you’re more interested in that type of post and so you’ll automatically see more of that type of thing.
Positive or Negative?
None of us like the idea of being monitored, but it’s not meant to control us. It’s actually trying to give us a better experience. If they give us more of what they’ve learned we like, that’s great isn’t it?
Or is it? The algorithms in place here can provide us with a much more rewarding experience
when we’re just scrolling for pleasure and catching up on sports news or our favourite TV show.
But this idea falls down when we’re looking for a service and we need some new specific
information. If it’s different to our normal patterns of behaviour or we’re looking for a product or service we’ve not shown an interest in before, what happens then? Are we actually being
helped or in fact are we being hindered?
Perhaps it’s not even as simple as a debate of whether it’s helping or hindering, perhaps it
comes down to the fact that they’ve taken it upon themselves to make decisions for us and what gives them the right? If it helps us as much as hinders us don’t the two cancel each other out anyway, and so isn’t it all a waste of time? Maybe we’d all be better off if we could just go back to looking at what we want to, like the olden days.
The truth is I don’t know. We could probably argue about it all day. Is it super clever or just plain annoying?
I’d love to know your thoughts.