Home Why We Need To Keep Debate Alive In A Customized, Personalized World

Why We Need To Keep Debate Alive In A Customized, Personalized World

Maybe we’re getting to be a bit of a broken record on this point, but a blog post this morning by Robert Scoble on how malleable social graphs could change the direction of location based services reminded us of the fine line we think we’re all walking.

Malleable social graphs, much like recommendation engines and customized searches, sound like the wave of the future, but we fear that they will, if improperly used, ensure that we never hear a disagreeable opinion or see something outside of our day-to-day ever again.

Scoble’s Argument: LBS Dead In The Water Without Innovation

For much of

Scoble’s post

, we heartily agree: We are in the very early days of LBS and Facebook could easily squash services like Gowalla and Foursquare if done right. His suggestion for these services is to use what he calls “malleable social graphs”, that is, a set of connections that change in response to real-world conditions.

Some of his suggestions and criticisms are right on point, such as the opportunity Gowalla has to point someone checking in at a car wash to anything but a lamp store. Checking into the TV show “24” and chatting with other fans sounds like a great idea that Miso is on top of already, just as SuperGlued has taken center stage for aligning like-minded folks around live music events.

…And Then It All Goes Wrong

It’s when Scoble gets to suggesting that, because he identified himself as a Democrat on Facebook, he shouldn’t be shown any “Republican crap” in his news feed, that our spidey-sense starts to tingle.

Just as we argued when we found that Google was customizing one in five searches, all of this recommending, customizing and filtering, can put us into an idea echo chamber of sorts, where we only come across safe and previously approved, by our actions, opinions. But a part of what we like so much about Facebook is getting into debates with friends we might never get into in “real life”.

Go ahead and post a video of the Tea Baggers on your profile, say how absurd you think it is or how much you support it, and see what unexpected discussion ensues.

It may not end up being pretty, but maybe you’ll learn something – if everyone can keep it polite enough to actually exchange ideas and information. Unless we truly believe that one side is always right and another always wrong (a ridiculous proposition) then filtering out any content we may not agree with is sure to create even more people who believe they are absolutely right. After all, everything they read on the Internet tells them so.

…Or Does It?

Then again, when Scoble gets to talking about tastes and reviews, such as his refined taste for sushi versus those who like “fried crap [he] can’t even pronounce”, it starts to make sense again. Maybe it’s because the only thing at stake here is missing out on a good meal.

Here’s what happens: Yuzu is a place that is awesome for advanced sushi lovers. I’ve eaten sushi all over the world in places like Tokyo, Yokohama, New York, London, and other places. I love advanced sushi. I look for restaurants who do sushi well. But most people aren’t like me. Most people don’t even like sushi. So, if they get dragged to a place like this they try to order “Americanized” sushi like, um, California rolls. Or fried crap I can’t even pronounce. That is NOT sushi. Anyway, these people, er, newbies, get to Yuzu and find that all the other “non-sushi” stuff sucks. So they rate it low. Me? I could care less about all that other non-sushi stuff when I am looking for a sushi restaurant, which is why I rate this place five stars. Now, Yelp does NOT have a malleable social graph. We can’t filter out all the “sushi newbies” who don’t like sushi anyway.

Malleable social graphs, recommendation engines, customized searches and the like all have great uses and can be immensely powerful tools. We can find out about all sorts of things we might have missed because they would have otherwise been lost in the overwhelming stream of information. Using these sorts of tools in conjunction with LBS is where the industry needs to go, as Scoble argues, to stay afloat.

But once you return back to the ideological realm again, though, as with his argument about movie reviews, we feel that the stance gets a bit tenuous. Our fear, as we discussed when looking at recommendation engine My6Sense, is that people need to step outside these filters otherwise they will never see the unexpected and have their thoughts challenged.

And of course, this is not a black and white debate. It isn’t between either having content recommended or having the entirety of the Internet’s data blasted at you, full force. There are gradations and in-betweens, and maybe, sometimes, you just want to know what all of your friends are talking about. But even then, do you only want to know what your friends are talking about that you can be sure you agree with?

Different opinions, ideas, and their vigorous debate is essential to a free and developing society. On this point, we implore Facebook, Google, My6Sense, Twitter and everyone else – no matter how much our staunch Republican friends may annoy us, please don’t silence them. We’ll never get anywhere if you do.

One Last Thing

With all of that being said, we have to fess up to one, minor detail. Where did we find Scoble’s article? Was it in the unfiltered chaos that contains all of the different opinions of the world? Not at all.

It was, in fact, the third story down in our Twitter Times, a website that creates a custom, newspaper-style page, specifically personalized by looking at all of the links being tweeted and retweeted by all of the people you follow on Twitter.

So much for personalization killing debate, eh?

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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