Monday, May 16, 2011

Personalization has its dark side. Just like other information access technologies..

This is my reflection on a recent TED talk that I recommend to watch:

Eli Pariser observed that information personalization is everywhere and it creates a bubble that shields one from the real world. What a surprise!

I hope that we all understand that some kind of tunnel vision is a back side of any information access technology that attempts to help one funding a needle in a haystack. Card catalog and simple (non-adaptive) search were steps in this direction. When you search in a classic library catalog for books you only see books relevant to your query. It's already a form of tunnel vision. Without library catalog search functionality you would have to browse the shelves and have chances to encounter some nice books you were not aware about. Wouldn't it be nice to keep finding book this way? But alas, we all use search instead of digging into the library stacks. Search shields you from mostly irrelevant stuff it and make your work more efficient. Loosing some gems on the way, but making many new things possible.

Nice to see that people like Eli finally can recognize that personalization makes another step into this direction. This is a sign that recommender systems area is coming of age and going through the same process as user modeling went about 10 years ago - recognizing problems associated with personalization. In user modeling area the problem of one-shot uncontrolled personalization has been discussed at length and a number of suggestions of controllable, transparent personalization was made. I guess, time to focus on that for recommender systems. Recognizing back side of every technology is vital to make it better!

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