jrtom: (Default)
This has been making the rounds recently:


The basic premise is that the information that you see on the web is becoming more personalized all the time:

these engines create a unique universe of information for each of us -- what I've come to call a filter bubble -- which fundamentally alters the way we encounter ideas and information

and this is problematic for the following reasons:

(1) "You're the only person in your bubble. In an age when shared information is the bedrock of shared experience, the filter bubble is a centrifugal force, pulling us apart."

(2) "The filter bubble is invisible...Google's agenda is opaque. Google doesn't tell you who it thinks you are, or why it's showing you the results you're seeing. You don't know if its assumptions about you are right or wrong -- and you might not even know it's making assumptions about you in the first place."

(3) "You don't choose to enter the bubble...personalized filters...come to you".

Google is not the only organization that comes under fire in this article--Facebook and Amazon also are mentioned--but Google is mentioned most prominently and consistently, presumably because it is the entity through which many people derive most of their information.

I'll start off by saying that much as I think that Google is cool, I hope that it never gets a monopoly on providing search results. It's important that there be viable choices--four or five good ones is a good start--for this service. We can make mistakes, and we won't always do the best job with every kind of information retrieval task. And if there's just one option, it makes it much more feasible for organizations to get access to information that they shouldn't (IMO). Defense in depth, memetic diversity, and all that--these things are critical to the healthy functioning of society.

I've also made specific proposals at work to suggest that we do some random perturbations of our search results in situations where our ranking algorithm doesn't really differentiate much, score-wise, between results, precisely to give our results a bit more diversity when it doesn't cost us anything (as far as we can tell).

All that said, I don't think that Mr. Pariser has really either (a) thought this through all the way nor (b) done his homework, at least so far as Google is concerned.

Before I respond to his specific points above, I'll point out that personalization is an incredibly useful approach to making any tool more useful, and search engines are no exception. If Google can determine that when I search for "latex" I am looking for information on typesetting rather than rubber fetishwear, so much the better. There's a universe of information out there and I don't have time to drink the whole thing. By all means, please do your best to give me the most relevant stuff.

Responding to his points in order:

(1) This is ridiculous. It's like saying that I am the only one who occupies this particular location in space-time and therefore I am isolated. Even if we suppose that I am the only person that has my particular combination of traits that Google measures, there are millions of people out there whose characteristics overlap strongly with mine. It's even stronger than that: customizing my information flow to my interests can help me discover people and communities and information to which I have existing implicit affinities that I might never have been able to run across otherwise.

(2) Dude. Do a search on "how to turn off personalized search". This will give you information on both how to do this and how to find out what kinds of factors are involved in personalization. This is not a new topic.
Could we be surfacing this better? Probably. But we do have to make some decisions about what information to give prominence to, or the search page gets incredibly cluttered. But the process (essentially, click on "view customizations" at the bottom of your search) is not difficult.

(3) There is some justice to this claim: I believe that search personalization is the default and while one can opt out, I don't know that we tell you up front when you create a Google Account that your results will be personalized.

That said: Google is not, and does not aspire to be, the _source_ of all information. We don't, for the most part, create content. We curate it, organize it, and try to make it accessible and useful. You, as a sentient being, are responsible for managing your inputs. We may decide that if you search for "rainforests" that you're more interested in organizations that want to preserve them unchanged than in organizations that want to extract the maximal resources from them at minimal cost, but nothing prevents you, or should, from searching for "rainforest preservation" or "rainforest resource extraction" instead. I don't really think that it's Google's job to help you break out of your rut.
jrtom: (Default)

A nice presentation (from Googler Paul Adams) on designing for the social web, focusing on some common practices, why they're problematic, and some options for what to do instead. (I'm personally very happy that he included the observation that 'friends' is a term that is very badly (over)used in the context of social networking sites.)
jrtom: (Default)

I don't think that the author really knows very much about data visualization, but it's an interesting read. Plus it paints the Google campus in a very...different...light. :)

As a side note, I found this experiment of the author to be hilarious: http://robinsloan.com/2009/52/#more-52
jrtom: (Default)

In a sense, what this is really doing is underlining just how little space a byte takes up these days...but it's still pretty impressive, and funny in spots.
jrtom: (Default)

(OK, I think that more HP novels would actually be a bad idea. Most of the rest of it looks good, though.)
jrtom: (Default)

(It also now has marked incidents, which is cool. But I've been waiting for someone to do the historical view for years.)
jrtom: (Default)

Along similar lines...IMO some of the coolest things that Google can do over the next while involve combinations of data that it's already got (or can easily get access to). Personally (for example) I want to see a house search that lets me specify "show me the houses with [specific characteristics] that are within this area (scribble outline on map), have an expected car commute time of < N_1 minutes, and have an expected bus commute time of < N_2 minutes with no more than 1 bus change".

*crosses fingers*
jrtom: (Default)
"Google Australia has introduced a new feature, enabling you to search
content on the internet before it is created."

https://mail.google.com/mail/help/customtime/index.html [linked to
from mail.google.com]
"Introducing Gmail Custom Time"

http://www.google.com/virgle/index.html [linked to from www.google.com]
"Earth has issues, and it's time humanity got started on a Plan B. So,
starting in 2014, Virgin founder Richard Branson and Google
co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin will be leading hundreds of
users on one of the grandest adventures in human history: Project
Virgle, the first permanent human colony on Mars."

(1) We had a general announcement from one of the VPs letting us know that they needed us to donate any Pentium II's that we had lying around so that they could cut down on power consumption in our data centers. (It would have been more believable if they hadn't quoted the MHz rating on the PIIs wrong; it was never as low as 90. :) )
(2) A Kirkland email let us know that the caterers had all quit and that they'd be getting us hot dogs from Costco until further notice. (Someone responded by saying that sounded good to him.)
(3) The intranet employee directory pictures have all been auto-altered to include either a really impressive mustache or an equally impressive pair of granny glasses.
(4) There is now an internal page detailing conventions to be used when coding in INTERCAL.

And from XKCD, a convincing pickup line (at least to devotees of social networks and graph theory): http://xkcd.com/403/
(Note the Erdos reference in the mouseover FTW.)

jrtom: (Default)
I work for a company--Google--that (a) has a lot of geek cred and (b) serves free food to its employees.

I have just gone and checked the cafeteria for today's lunch, and there is no pie available for dessert. (Fruit, yes. Two different kinds of cake including tiramisu, yes. Several other delectations, yes. No pie.)

The food here is generally excellent, and in fact I have no real complaints.

But I am, somehow, a tiny bit disappointed that Google missed an opportunity--if a small and silly one--to up its geek cred by a notch, even if only to its employees. (At least at this satellite office. For all I know, all the rest of them are having pie fights today and we just didn't get the memo or something.)

("The [pie] is a lie!" :) )


I've just mentioned my slight disappointment to the catering folks. Once they understood what I was talking about, they agreed that there should in fact have been pie today. (I don't think that they quite got it, in the sense that one of them suggested that perhaps they could have pie next week to make up for it...but I appreciate their humoring me, at least.)

Ah well. There is tri-tip, so I shouldn't complain too much.
jrtom: (Default)
I have just discovered that Google, unlike Microsoft, does not have a site license for the Oxford English Dictionary website.

This has occasioned my most significant regret for my decision to join Google.

(That is to say, things are generally going quite well. More on this later, probably.)
jrtom: (Default)

Personally I think that the 'robots.txt' proposal is brilliant.

All joking aside, though, there are some serious questions to be asked here about what's appropriate. (And yes, Microsoft has had a prototype with 2 cities out for several months now; no idea what the current status of that project is.)
jrtom: (Default)

Works pretty well. I was able to find a reference to one of my favorite bogus patents (a mechanism for faster-than-light communication).

This has the potential to be very useful indeed: anything that helps rationalize the state of IP law in this country (by, in this case, making it much easier to do a patent search _before_ you submit your application) would be helpful.
jrtom: (Default)

Plus some other stuff about working at Google. Some insightful comments in response, too.
jrtom: (Default)
From the Google Blog:

"We're happy to finally have some good news for the, ahem, vocal Mac enthusiasts we've been hearing from. Let's just say that we have gotten more than a few "requests" for a Mac version of Google Earth."

Yeah, I'll bet you have. (Not from me--I figured that bugging them about it would be poor form, considering it's (a) free and (b) not something I actually have any real use for--but I have spoken with some heat to my screen when I've seen the phrase "...but we're working on it" for the forty-leventh time.)

Anyway, Google Earth is now available for both Mac and Windows.

And damn it's fun to play with. Woohoo! The major difference between this and the "Earth" program described in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is the lack of real-time updates...but taking the privacy problems aside, well, it's free.
jrtom: (Default)
Google Transit (beta) allows residents of Portland, OR (for the moment) to do trip planning on public transportation (in this case, Tri-Met). Very nice.
jrtom: (Default)
Risk using Google Maps. A completely gratuitous use of the API, I'll grant you...but then after finishing a paper for submission early today I was feeling kind of punchy, and actually finished a game.


jrtom: (Default)

May 2011

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