Week 21 makes a little detour from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 (more aptly called the Semantic Web), looking whether the latter terms signals a break with Web 2.0 or more a logical evolution. The Semantic Web was a core topic in the Learning Analytics open course (LAK11) earlier this year, and I discussed the concept of the Semantic Web in an earlier blog post (here).
An interesting angle is the relation between the Semantic Web and the information overload, experienced by many users, trying to find information with search engines and soldiering to read all kinds of ‘interesting’ and ‘must-read’ articles, blog posts and videos. Clay Shirky doesn’t use the term ‘information overload’, but prefers to speak about a lack of filtering. Tools to enable improved filtering seem like a good thing. I use tools such as Twitter, Google Reader and Diigo to filter interesting content from the abundance around. These filtering tools are based on social networks, using other’s preferences and selections to help me making my own.
This improved filtering is one of the alleged hallmarks of the Semantic web. Instead of HTML pages, that store layout information, but are unsuitable for data analysis. A new standard of data storage is proposed that would enable machines to read, interpret and use more easily data from websites. There are some notable examples of the Semantic Web right under our noses.
Search results for Google, for example, are different from person to person, when you are logged in with your Google account. And online retailers such as Amazon, change their homepage, suggestions and (notoriously) their prices depending on who’s visiting the website.
Elif Pariser has pointed out that much of this filtering happens beyond our conscience, risking trapping us in ‘content bubbles’ with search engines and recommendation systems systematically selecting for us what we ‘want’ to see, instead of giving an ‘objective’ account of the information available.
The result is a “filter bubble”, which he defines as “a unique universe of information for each of us”, meaning that we are less likely to encounter information online that challenges our existing views or sparks serendipitous connections.
It’s a worthwhile warning, but I wonder whether it’s new to the internet. Do people not tend to select friends, information sources and books, that correspond with the views they already have?
The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You. By Eli Pariser.Penguin Press; 294 pages;