Sunday, May 22, 2011

Facebook, okay; but, Google, I've got a problem

A week or so ago I was “playing” with Facebook trying to get it serve me ads on specific topics based on what was in a status or a comment I had written.  Facebook is kind of like your trusty dog, it doesn’t believe you would con it.  And you know you’ve betrayed a dog’s trust, throwing the ball, throwing the ball, then not throwing to the ball and laughing as your dog takes off running to catch the ball that’s still in your hand.

Likewise, Facebook takes everything you write, runs it through a few algorithms and ta da! If you are writing about Destin, Florida, quite possibly you might click on an ad for beach condos on Hilton Head Island (can’t afford them, at least during the “season).  If you use the word liquor, Facebook wants you to “Like” Jim Beam.

That’s all fine and good and actually fun, for a few minutes.  But, have you noticed that Google can give you some odd results lately?  It used to be that I’d almost always find what I was looking for in the first few results, certainly on the first page of results.

I spent most of this week in Iowa trying a lawsuit, though that’s another story.  I’d made a reservation at a Holiday Inn Express in Keokuk last weekend.  While there I did a little surfing a couple of times looking for local restaurants.  I’ve done this before while at home a search for “Midtown brunch” will give you twenty links to restaurant and ratings sites.  Not in Keokuk.  I typed in “Keokuk IA restaurants and got paid results for resorts and hotels with meta tags for the word restaurant.

I finished my trial on Friday, too late to get a flight and decided to stay the weekend in Burlington, Iowa on the Mississippi, making a reservation at a Fairfield Inn & Suites.  This morning I Googled “breakfast Burlington IA” and got a list of Bed and Breakfast place, again that used breakfast as a meta tag.

Google is getting as dumb as Facebook.  It knows I’ve made two hotel reservations in a week and thinks I’ve got some sort of lodging fetish.

Facebook and Google have “personalized” my “online experience” and I’m not at all sure I like it.  There’s of course the creepy factor and the stay out of my business factor.  But the dumb algorithm factor is troubling.

I started computer searching decades ago using Westlaw, a legal database, which required a basic understanding of Boolean logic.  With the advent of Google and its like I didn’t have to be as precise, as the algorithm “crowd sourced” the likely correct results of my search; and, with millions of users it worked really well.

This new emphasis on what I’ve done in the past having a bearing on what I want to do now doesn’t seem to me to be working well.  Maybe they’ll refine it; but, in the meantime, what results that I might well want to see is it filtering based on it’s, flawed, assumptions about me?

Newer isn’t always better.  I don’t mind Facebook’s little games, I’m confident I can outthink a 25 year old billionaire, though I sometimes resent him making me have to do it.  But, I don’t like the idea of Google skewing the results it gives me based on a poor understanding of who I am and what I want.


Big Mark 243 said...

"Boolean logic". That is something that I have not had to hear for decades.

Pretty soon the machine will be able to convince us that we don't want what we want and what they tell us we want, is not only our want, but our need.

Still no help on stripping speaker wire. If you are ever in Omaha, you could give a demonstration!!

Dave said...

In the event I don't make it there soon, a lesson: Hold speaker wire in non-dominant hand and lighter in the dominant hand. Hold lighter under wire. Click lighter. After a couple of seconds, remove plastic residue from wire.

fermicat said...

I'm a little insulted that Twitter suggested I follow FiberOne. What the hell?

The Curmudgeon said...

Just yesterday I was in court out in the 'burbs and I caught the "On the Media" program on WBEZ. This interview addresses your topic. According to Eli Pariser, author of the book The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, "Google’s really moved away from [the PageRank algorithm that Google started with] and they've moved toward this kind of personalized user behavior-driven way of presenting information, which is pretty good if you’re searching for pizza. But when Google is the way that a lot of people experience information and news, you know, I think it’s a bigger problem."

Dave said...

I think that's the program that I was listening to over the weekend.

I read my post again, my apologies for the missing end quotes and other errors. I didn't proofread the post and I really need to do so.

Dave said...

And Fermi, isn't FiberOne the name of a football stadium?