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It’s the Personalization, Stupid!



There is a bit of storm raging in the Internet world. It’s one of those where all the experts jockey for position to get their opinions received by those who will ultimately pay them to do things. As a result, much of the analysis and “examination” of the latest search moves by Google is self-serving.

This change is a bit different in that is has caused Twitter to respond to the change as if it has some say in how Google does business. This is one of those times where the commercial Internet collides directly with the ideal of the Internet. Open sharing for all is the ideal while the business side is busy creating the best mousetrap to capture users so they can see ads. Not everyone’s ads, mind you, just their ads. There’s open then there are profits :-).

If you want to hear various levels of analysis, conjecture, whining, posturing and more, you can check out the various talking heads like MG Siegler, Liz Gannes, Danny Sullivan, Google, Matt Cutts and an endless parade of opinion creators and leaders. Bottom line is this, complain if you must but Google is doing what Google is doing. Do you really think they didn’t consider the potential anti-trust implications? Really?

Anyway, what is really taking place here is that as personalization of the web continues to “progress’ it is likely to be driving the openness of the Internet, as ideally intended, into the background because the ultimate result of personalization is giving people what they want vs. providing for them what they might actually need.

Let me use this as an example. Steve Jobs did what he wanted with regard to the treatment of his pancreatic cancer. He did what HE wanted versus taking information from others that didn’t fit his thinking, and thus created a personalized solution to treat the cancer based on his level of medical training (which I think was none). In hindsight, his personalization may have very well kept a better solution away from him for a critical amount of time and may have contributed to his death. What we want is not always what we need.

This example is extreme I admit but it makes my point. This uproar has nothing to do with what company A is doing or not doing to Company B. It’s about what is happening to the web via personalization. In my opinion, personalization is making people dumber and less open because it is filtering out competing ideas. That is a very bad thing, folks. Getting what you want vs. what you actually need is an important distinction. If personalization only gives you information about who you are now, then will you miss opportunities to learn something that will make you better later?

I would encourage you to watch the following TED talk from Eli Pariser, the author of “The Filter Bubble”. He does a much better job of articulating this issue than I could and this was months before Google upped the ante with “Search Plus Your World”. Interestingly enough, this is a perfect example of something that, based on my personal preferences, I should have never seen if I left it up to Google, Facebook and other highly personalized Internet outlet. Politically Mr. Pariser is as far left and I am a right, in most cases I would be diametrically opposed to his views. But what he says here makes great sense and should be heeded.

So in the end this is not about whether Google is screwing Twitter or anything else. What is truly being debated, in most cases without the opinion leaders even realizing it, is the freedom that the Internet used to offer vs. the Internet that may seem more manageable to some but it is very limiting.

This is not good news. As for the business and marketing side of this? Well, we will do what we can to work the system to our advantage. That’s our job. Ultimately though we should consider what that system is providing and just how it means that many who may need your product or service may never get to find it because they aren’t aware that they need it, at least according to their Google and Facebook algorithmic selves.