Living in a Google Filter Bubble?

Currently there is a perception by some observers that Google casts a proverbial “filter bubble” over the internet. This interests me because what I may go to search for on Google and the result I actually get may differ considerable to someone else.

Living in a Google Filter Bubble?

Bubbles

Photo Credit: Indi Samarjiva, Flickr

Note from the Headboy: I originally published this article on the 24th September 2014 and since that time, as announced by Tech Radar on the 9th June, DuckDuckGo has now been approved by Apple.

Whilst I wouldn’t normally promote an article so short into one of my own, this helps highlight some of my points.

DuckDuckGo - Tech Radar

Find the article here.

A practical demonstration for you to try:

I am going to put a search term in and see what I get. See if you get the same as I do below.

Filter-Bubble-Egypt

Egypt Search, click to enlarge.

What always worries me is the zombie like motion that I perform to go to Google almost immediately for my searches. I can remember a time back in the old days when I used Metacrawler as my choice method of search but such times changed long ago.

I stumbled across DuckDuckGo by pure accident whilst using Opera (not Chrome) and was intrigued by the search engine. So much so that I started looking further and I was brought into view of the “Filter Bubble” phenomenon.

The filter bubble is a form of internet search censor with a commercial and popularity based science. If you want to read more on this have a look at this link (which opens in a new window).

Why is the filter bubble a bad thing?

It actually goes against what the search engine was built for. It is meant to bring us all topics of our search criteria. Filtering came about to improve the relevance but surely we should decide that relevance and not have it decided for us?

Important points that DuckDuckGo raise:

  • Based on how Google Profiles you, you are likely to get a biased view of a topic with less objectivity.
  • Useful information is demoted if it is not likely to be something that Google considers you may like (even if it has relevance to what you are looking for).

Of course DuckDuckGo is a rival to Google so we have to take what is said with a pinch of salt but we are aware that Google tracks and records information and uses a lot of its large weight to leverage for advertisers.

 

Big Brother/Uncle Sam

Google is recording every search we make and every click we take (does that sound like a Police song?). Oh can’t you see, what yer doin to me? 🙂

Do they have to pass this over to any government body who asks for the details? Yes they do.

I always had a counter argument to this. If you are doing nothing wrong then such information will never come back to bite you. If you are running for public office, just stop using the Internet altogether, then make a minion do it for you! In the UK we have to deal with a very large coverage of CCTV. This coverage would not be permissible in America because Americans are paranoid about central government. You’ve got the FBI, CIA for starters. If you happen to be an American, and you are for CCTV (Close Circuit Television), prove me wrong in the comments below. I expect silence.

If you are not guilty of anything, not doing anything you shouldn’t be, then what is there to worry about? Why cry for civil liberties when only those doing something they shouldn’t be are the ones caught? Any cry in protest puts you under the spotlight. Where there is smoke there is fire which leads to self-incrimination.

 

A note about J.D. Salinger

 

Of course there is nothing new about this. When people loaned The Catcher in the Rye from a library they would get flagged by a number of agencies but specifically the FBI. A large number of maniacs have assassinated people or gone on a shooting spree following the reading of this J. D. Salinger classic. Therefore this book was black flagged. There is dispute about this, it could well be a myth or it could be true, but if it is true why would the FBI say “Yes, we have files on those who loaned out J. D. Salinger books.”. Maybe just the threat is enough?

Of course, freedom of speech and expression is important; there is no harm in holding an opposing opinion unless you aim to do something terrible with it.

Note: As part of my spring clean on this post circa June 2014 I had to amend the title of the book so as not to enrage fans of J.D. Salinger and in addition it hasn’t been confirmed that people who read The Catcher in the Rye were ever submitted on the FBI list. It just so happens that a number of mass murderers (including the person who assassinated Kennedy) had read this book before hand. In fact, a lot of people have read this book so it is somewhat circumstantial. It is like claiming that all of the recent stickups, gangbangs and bank jobs are attributable to Grand Theft Auto with the same poor science application.

 

Our role as the agent – the profile, building a file on us

Increasingly we are becoming traceable agents. Profiling is nothing new but the technology has moved on considerably. I know this seems odd or left field but we retain an imprint online, we lay footprints in the snow, tracks in the mud. The problem is the tracks we leave retain personal details about us and insidious marketers rub their digital mitts at what we leave behind so that we can be haunted.

Have you noticed how you have a “Profile” in sites you join. Any place you put in your details is an area that can be logged. There are some places that logging is appropriate and others where it is not. Whilst they are using familiar terms, this is just a method of keeping you within the confines of the agency. You become a Google agent, a Yahoo agent or a Microsoft agent. You don’t get issued a gun but you do get issued a badge.

The trend of logging in has changed, more places want to use your Facebook details to sign you through. Microsoft like using the passport, Yahoo have similar passport requirements. They all seem desperate to lock you in some how, keep you in the franchise zone, herd you in their direction.

Facebook-fiendly-login

Fiverr’s login grubbing for the Facebook.

How do you feel about being in the bubble? Is it something you embrace or avoid? I personally am split after researching the problem a bit further. There is something to the problem of popular censoring.

 

Analytic Cold Turkey: A month on

I decided to go cold turkey from analytics partly as an experiment but partly because I was becoming obsessed with the numbers. This numeric obsession was something I had outlined as a behaviour that was non-conducive to healthy operations because the passion flows out if you get caught up in the minutiae. I covered an observation of this process in detail through this post.

cold-turkey-feature

In my log I may make mention of André Mafei. He is a large part of the Google Analytics community on Google+, this particular community is one that I find deeply interesting even though I’m a rather new observer of analytics tools in general.

THE LOG

1st August 2013

07:30 AM

My normal routine would have been to check my stats right about now. It seems horrible not being able to do that but I will proceed. I had no further problems today and no temptation in going to have a quick peak. I did about 2 hours of ironing (lucky me) which meant I was not around my laptop.

2nd August 2013

07:20 AM

I was very tempted this morning. I had to fight the metric urge. I went into the WP-Admin to sort out a few links on some of my past posts. I also wrote a response to André on Google+ about the topic. Eek!

09:01 AM

I was tempted again. This was mostly because I’m writing a Google Analytics Guide and the topic drives some temptation within me. Once more I have resisted! Give me a biscuit.

6th August 2013

16:38 PM

I want a look right NOW!!! Ahhhhhh!!!! I’ve fended off the urge since the 2nd but I want to look. Resist (not resistance is futile).

14th August 2013

08:55 AM

So far so good, I have had very few instances of wanting to check in the last couple of days. I noticed a little spike in my Dashboard stats that appears at the top when in WordPress sorting out my site’s pages but otherwise I am still good (I didn’t peer further). I’ve been interacting less in the GA community on G+ which has been advantageous. Also André has toned down the number of analytics posts he has written recently which has been a godsend. I’m nearly halfway through the month.

15th August 2013

08:04 AM

I really wanted a parity check today to see how my month was going so far. I had a bit of a light week last week and this week has been a bit slow. Access Denied.

16th August 2013

18:20 PM

I had a breach, a moment of weakness if you will, I was wrestling whether it was actually an incursion or not on my Cold Turkey but it definitely was. I looked at my stats via the WordPress dashboard (big mistake). At least I know that people have been looking. Fortunately I haven’t compounded the issue by using Google Analytics again. I return back to the cold turkey a bit disappointed in my lack of willpower having undone all my good work up until this point.

ACTL2013SEPT

The temptation!!

25th August 2013

15:30 PM

I have breached the cold turkey well and truly. I looked initially at the dashboard, Google Analytics and other site stats. I’m happy to say that visitors still arrive. This goes some way to prove that “analytics watching”(a bit like clock watching) is not very productive.

25th – 30th August 2013

I had well and truly breached the Cold Turkey with approximately 8 cold turkey incursions including WordPress Stats, Google Analytics, AWstats and Webalizer. The exception was during a Stag-do weekend where I spent time with 11 gents including my future brother-in-law. That was a great weekend but 440 miles and 7 hours 10 minutes of driving combined left me feeling tired.

Conclusion

I found that I did have more time to devote to fixing certain elements of the site that I was unhappy about, I also learnt that traffic was coming through without my intervention which is a good thing. One thing that was a problem was that I’d lost sight of keeping up a sensible posting rhythm and as such I haven’t had as many views as a result. Otherwise it was a worthwhile experiment which allowed me to recoup a fair bit of personal time to tackle other projects.

I would recommend an analytic vacation if you are losing sight of your content and need to get things done. It is very easy to get caught up in the numbers but as Vilfredo Pareto might say; 20% of the cause effects 80% of the symptoms, so what you look at on analytics has to be worthwhile and more importantly, targeted.

End of Month Traffic Report: August 2013

August hasn’t gone as well as June or July for a number of reasons but predominantly because I haven’t been able to write consistently during the period. Due to a ramp up in my requirement for my 5th assignment for my degree my writing time has taken a hit and will continue to do so into September. As annoying as this is, this is just the way the cookie crumbles so with regret to my readers (and from the data there isn’t a ground swell of loyal ones) I will remain sparse and accidental for some time. There is reason to be cheerful for all, after my exam I will be reactivated for combat and I’m really going to hit it hard.

I should also mention that I observed an Analytic Cold Turkey during the month of August and this may have some correlation to my results.

traffic-jam-blur

On a warm and happy note I would like to celebrate my first legitimate comment and although it seems odd to hold this up as a success it is! It only took 70 days from the 14th June. My hope is to make sure I get more in future in less than 70 days.

Without further ado let’s take a look at the numbers.

End of Month Report

I’ve given an acronym to Google Analytics with my Actual Traffic Filter so as to save on some real estate for words below. This is displayed as GAF. GAF represents the truest figure based on what Google Analytics has recorded as a true page indent. The filter removes a phenomenon I’ve termed as ZSB or Zero Second Bounce where the visitor has made no page indent or 0 seconds on page.

EoMTR GAF

Pageviews

WordPress Stats = 83 (last month 122) -41 adverse (-32%)
GAF = 63 (last month 67) -4 adverse (-6%)

Visitors

WordPress Stats = 26 (last month 52) -26 adverse (-50%)
GAF = 6 (last month 10) -4 adverse (-40%)

A big slide of visitors this month over last.

Average time on site

GAF = 564 seconds or 9 minutes 24 seconds (last month 622 seconds or 10 minutes 22 seconds) -58 seconds adverse (-9%)

Demographics

WordPress Stats Demographics for last 30 days.

August Viewers

August Viewers

Google Analytics 1st August – 31st August.

AUGGAFGEO2013

GAF – Geo Information

Traffic Source

I don’t get as deep a field of view from WordPress.com Stats although it does give a lot of good information on referrals and search terms. Direct is best supplied by Google Analytics.

AUGGAFTSOURCE2013

Traffice Sources

Direct

GAF = 5 (last month 9) adverse -4

Referral

  • WordPress stats = 16
  • GAF = 8

Search

GAF = 0

Content

AUGCONT2013

August Content viewed (not a list of the actual content)

As there was less overall content this month the reasons surrounding my lack of contact may be more clear.

Conclusion

It has been a hard month this month. Most of my tinkering has been at the technical level so as readers may notice I’ve changed themes. The previous theme was awful in reflection and I much prefer this cleaner look. I had a major success with some php coding which has rectified a problem with Trackbacks and Pingbacks.

I’m happier with my content as it feels a lot more refined than where I started from. I still haven’t found my centre in terms of what I should be writing about and this may form some of my heartache.

Changes Made:

I no longer have a repeating title in my posts. I went back through all of my past posts and rectified this problem. This was a lengthy process.

I made an amendment to the theme code to remove the featured image at the top and stop the title repeating with a linked title. This was quite an easy fix.

Successes & Gripes:

I’ve been using Google+ happily for a while now and still love it. There has been some consternation by certain more experienced bloggers that Google+ doesn’t drive traffic on sites. I would say that is categorically untrue because the puny amount of traffic that is referred to my site in the majority comes from Google+. As such the writing involves a lot more topics that revolve around Google+. I have a great need to add a whole lot more time to my G+ strategy but I feel very optimistic about the system and on average gain about 4 new followers a day.

As I feel that I can contribute and that I am getting good interaction this empowers me to move forward. I do have some issues with Google+ which I need to address. Circle administration is one. I also need to understand more around # tags and how to use them effectively. I also plan to steal a little strategy from Ana Hoffmann’s TrafficGenerationCafé databanks in order to add a bit of mocha flavour to my Google+ Public Relations. Stay tuned for more.

Facebook is entirely stationary although I prefer the post output in comparison to Twitter. I find the image situation is not entirely helpful, Facebook can’t handle certain image sizes well. It seems to like squares better for the preview pane and will ignore the featured image.

Twitter is somewhat dead at the moment and I’ve not been tweeting, there isn’t the breadth of people in the right circle tweeting about the right things so I am never going to succeed unless I commit a better strategy of adding followers and being active.

My email attached to the domain has been hideously underused. I should be sending from this mailbox in future. This may draw people in. Fingers crossed!

I stripped off all my social media buttons as I hated the plugin I had, I need to rework these in the new theme. This is going to be a bit of a project. It is not going to be tabled just yet as I need to address some other work first.

I have many times harped on about the need for a better archive in my development journal. This will be another project. I found a good guide on WPBeginner which I’ll be following. It involves a plugin which sounds quite good. The generic archive structure on basic themes is simple and doesn’t look good on screen.

How do you best recover from a poor showing?

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