Thursday, September 9

Google Makes the Interweb Faster and Lazier

Wow there's a lot of hoopla over the announcement of Google Instant (positive, neutral, and downright indifferent). Auto-populating content based on what you half-type isn't really new. I blame my iPhone's autocomplete spelling function for completely destroying my ability to type on any other keyboard. Now we can apply the same principles of devolution to finding stuff online.

Google's concept around saving "350 million hours" of user time a year -- since we won't wait 2-3 seconds for every search result to appear -- is what has me worried. Over the years we have jumped from dial-up modem speeds to faster dial-up modem speeds, from broadband to faster broadband. Now we are moving from real time to faster real time.

Which is great progress for someone who's been around the Internet awhile. But to users like my kids, who are just starting to interact online, it becomes a starting reference point. Everything else is going to seem slow. Even if it isn't. Instantaneous is the new Fast.

What's faster than instantaneous? Not having to take any action, starting a whole new race into predictive content. Why go through the whole pain-in-the-ass process of actually seeking information? Shouldn't the Interweb just provide it to me when I need it, before I realize I need it?

Predictive Content has been online marketing's holy grail for a long time. From Amazon.com's "you might like" shopping lists, to behavioral targeting of ad banners, to Facebook's "your friends like this" recommendations. Everyone wants to provide you with information that they think you want.

So what happens when we solely rely on this type of content? The Interweb definitely feels faster. And easier. And slothier. On an extreme, it's dangerously close to eliminating Free Will. Or at least Searching Will.

There's already an entire grey market of companies reselling your website browsing cookie data to ad networks. Combine this with all the Facebook "likes" you are clicking across the Internet. Add a healthy dose of "we know you like this, and these other people like this also, and they browsed here, so you must be interested in the same things" logic.

Which is all good and fine, until we reach the point where we don't actually take independent action online. We lose our autonomy when we stop proactively seeking content. When I start consuming the same content as my peers -- just because it is fed to me and easier to consume -- then these predictive algorithms lose their edge. The content they recommend gets marginalized. Our cookies get fat and lazy. Our social content becomes generic groupthink. And the Internet will start to feel so, well, boring.

The big question is at that point, will any of us remember how to actually find content on our own? If only there were a web site for that...

1 comment:

YouthHealth said...

Yeah the google instant caught me by surprise one day. I thought my computer had a virus or something. Overall I do like the future. Thanks for blogging about it. Interesting stuff! :)