It's a Social Media World

A Discussion on Digital Media & Communication Trends

The Endangered Web – The Rise & Possible Demise of the Common Voice

Some of you may have heard of @baskers. She is a public civil servant in Scotland who was brutally attacked in the media because she happened to personally use Twitter. A tabloid newspaper took random tweets she wrote, twisted them and made them into an attack on her character. Other tabloid papers picked up the story and a normal everyday person who just happens to use social media became a sensation overnight. What followed however, was a backlash from the Twitter and blogsphere community. People read her story and went online to see for themselves. Instead of finding the diabolical person the papers were discussing they found a person just like them. So they begin blogging and tweeting in her defense creating a different narrative for the event. “The support was humbling,” @baskers stated in her interview at the #140 conference. (Check out her story and her blog)

What is both frightening and comforting about this type of interaction is that everyone online is being heard. You and I, now have the ability and the power to create change. We no longer have to wait for the newspapers to print news, rely on one source for information or be confined to the norms and values of the elite. For the first time in our world’s history, anyone with access to the internet can have an influential voice. It is this open, knowledge creating environment that has driven the growth of the great big WWW. Despite all of the advances this open environment is in danger. Like the polar bear our human need to continue to advance has the distinct ability to wipe out an amazing tool. What am I talking about? I am talking about web personalization.

What is Web Personalization?

Web personalization is the ability to control the content you see based on your previous searches, likes or perceived preferences. I am a marketer and although this technology is amazing, it is also scary. I don’t want the content that I see on the web to be based on what I have previously searched for or what a computer algorithm tells me I should like. Tivo, Apple’s Genius, and Amazon all try to suggest things I might like because of purchases I have made. Want to know how many times they are wrong? The answer is a lot. I go to the web because I am searching for answers to questions or researching information. I will make up my own mind about what I believe or what stories are credible. I don’t need a marketer, or piece of technology holding back information because they think I wouldn’t approve of it. Additionally, if we begin discussing how that impacts opinions of issues and political matters we could be here all day. Now some marketers believe that web personalization is not much different than aggregation. They are wrong. Web personalization is limiting information based on a person’s previous searches. Aggregation is using technology like Bing, Yahoo and Google to find the most relevant information on the web for the topic you are looking for. Search engines aggregate this information based on key words and try to give you the most relevant posts first. They do not typically hide information or sites from you. Learn more about the dangers of web personalization here

Enhance Not Destroy

As marketers and communicators it is our responsibility to ensure that new communication tools and technology are being used in ways that are ethical and equitable. I suggest that as we search for new ways to improve our wonderful online world that we do so carefully and respectful. Empowering people by giving them access to information and influence is too powerful to discard. I don’t want to imagine a world where people’s ability to make decisions is limited because the information available to them is restricted. @baskers’s probably wouldn’t want to imagine that world either.

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4 comments on “The Endangered Web – The Rise & Possible Demise of the Common Voice

  1. Patti
    June 16, 2011

    Excellent post, Kristen! I see the internet as a huge library where I can find information on every imaginable topic. Like you, however, I don’t want suggestions based on my search and/or consumer history, and it’s kind of creepy to see an address from 20 years ago in the sidebar of my Gmail account.

    I’ve learned that absolutely *nothing* online is private, and that regardless of disclaimers to the contrary, I don’t own “my” content. Whatever I say and/or do (on or offline) may be used to create a composite of “me,” even if this “me” comes from a snapshot of information or a snippet of context. Because of this, I’ve learned to read between the lines a little more carefully when reading anything, including tweets, wall posts, messages, blogs, etc., and I go to multiple sources for my information to try to find unbiased information.

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. I have a love-hate relationship with social media: I use social media as a tool (and for fun), but I think there’s way too much ME!!!! in social MEdia.

    • kbconway
      June 16, 2011

      Thanks Patti – Your insight is always so valuable. I heard mentioned yesterday during the #140conf that twitpic came out and stated that they owned any photos uploaded. I don’t understand how online companies like that could possibly believe they own anything. The very nature of open source is that nothing is owned and everything is used to enhance everything else. We are certainly in interesting times… 🙂

  2. haley
    June 20, 2011

    Sad but true. 😦 I’m not a fan of web personalization. Although I know social MEdia will somehow bite me in the ass, I still use it.

    • kbconway
      June 20, 2011

      Social Media is a moving target Haley. Hopefully, the courts will continue to uphold the right to free speech. Unless you are harming others than your employer should not have the right to take it away. (Harming meaning: HIPAA in medical or slander in PR… etc)

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