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Follow the Filter Bubble

Your Facebook Edgerank exposed


/ August 18th, 2011 /

To you, that is.

Jeremy Keeshin over at thekeesh.com got curious about Facebook’s Edgerank, the algorithm used to determine which friends you interact with – and so appear most often on your news feed.

In the process he wrote a nifty little script that lets you see your own personal friend ranking.

As Jeremy writes, the results shouldn’t be too surprising, but may be embarrassing. I’d also add that they are a bit off. For example, there are two people in my top ten who I almost never interact with. I’m assuming Facebook has them high in my Edgerank because they recently posted vacation pictures that I scrolled through – so, yes, I clicked on a lot of their pages recently, but that’s an anomaly. Should Facebook infer that they are good friends?

Try it out yourself and let us know if Facebook’s results are on or off the mark for you.


Yahoo’s man+machine algorithm: the numbers are in


/ August 3rd, 2011 /

So how well does personalization work, anyway?

Over at Yahoo, according to FastCompany, quite well. Since setting up their crack personalization team in 2009, clicks on Yahoo’s “Today” box have increased 270%.

That’s saying personalization makes us four more times likely to click on a link. Whether you believe personalization makes the internet more efficient, more fractured or more mind-numbing, that’s a pretty impressive number.

For those concerned about the self-looping and fragmenting effects of the filter bubble, the good news is that Yahoo’s algorithm is not entirely human-free. Editors are in charge of curating the 50-100 versions of the “Today” module that could pop up on your Yahoo home page; the bots just guide them to which stories work best and, ultimately, which take on “Today” you’ll see.

Humans are also, thankfully, still in charge of deciding when civics trumps the bottom line:

On the day Fast Company visited, President Obama was slated to give an important speech that evening on the draw down of troops in Afghanistan.The algorithm predicted that the story on the speech would do miserably with Yahoo visitors. And indeed, according to the dashboard, it wasn’t getting many takers. But the editors still flipped the override switch, ruling that the story would be shown to all visitors to the home page at least once, irrespective of what the algorithm said. It was, and Yahoo willingly took the hit on clicks. Some stories, the editors say, everyone simply needs to see.


What’s the Internet hiding? Lets find out.


/ June 8th, 2011 /

What does the filter bubble look like? We decided to do a little experiment to help visualize what’s taking place.

The comparisons below only scratch the surface of what the Internet’s filters are up to, but they give a good troubling idea.


The future of personalization is here


/ June 7th, 2011 /

Writing The Filter Bubble in 2010, Eli didn’t lack current examples of how personalization algorithms shape the content we see on our browsers – from Netflix and Amazon suggestions to Google search returns and ads that trail us around the internet.

But many of the creepiest applications of the filter bubble were left to the imagination. What if, someday, search engine results changed depending upon your friends’ preferences? What if you visited your favorite online magazine and the front page was “personalized” to show you the stories it thought you wanted to see?

Well, it didn’t take long for “someday” to arrive.

Last month Bing started giving users the option to plug into to their Facebook accounts to “receive personalized search results based on the opinions of your friends,” thus “bringing the collective IQ of the Web together with the opinions of the people you trust most, to bring the “Friend Effect” to search.” Such a move was expected when Bing and Facebook joined forces last year, but it’s still something to see it in action. To Bing’s credit, the “Facebooking” of search is opt-in (at least for now), so searchers can decide for themselves how much they want their Filter Bubble to collapse in on them.

It remains to be seen whether Washington Post and Slate readers will be given a similar option. Trove, a project of the Washington Post, creates a personalized news experience based on your Facebook profile. It’s still a separate site and in its early stages, but from an interview with Chief Digital Officer, Vijay Ravindran, it looks like the Washington Post will be integrating parts of Trove into its own site and subsidiary Slate in the not-too-distant future. It shouldn’t be long before my Washingtonpost.com is something quite different from your Washingtonpost.com.


If you liked… you will NOT like


/ May 31st, 2011 /

The folks over at LibraryThing.com have taken a different approach towards filtering: showing you what you won’t like based on what you do like. Here’s an amusing list of books to steer clear of:


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