Tag Archives: Google

Podcast Notes: on Facebook and Personal Reality

My Dad, who has quit Facebook (almost), recently posted a link to a podcast on his Facebook page and it is one of the most interesting podcasts I’ve encountered lately. From the ABC program Conversations came the episode:
Facebook and the last days of reality: futurist Mark Pesce

I listened to the episode while knitting, then a few days later grabbed a notebook and took some sketch notes while I listened again. Here are some of my main takeaways:

  • The Facebook Algorithm  acts as a Cognitive Bias Amplifier because showing us what we want to see keeps us on the platform and the more we use Facebook, the more Facebook knows about us, and has a chance to advertise at us. This has trapped Facebook in a destructive cycle with its users, where users get what they want, not what might be socially good for them. If Facebook tires to change its algorithms to distribute socially necessary information rather than a personalised experience, users will move on to another platform that gives them what they want.
  • Emotional Contagion is spread through Facebook because it is a powerful social network. An example of this is the scientific experiment that Facebook did showing users more positive or negative news stories to find out how it would influence them. There is a related RadioLab podcast about this experiment that goes into more detail about how researchers are able to create experiments on a mass scale now thanks to the data that Facebook collects and talks about the ethics of doing so. The RadioLab podcast The Trust Engineers was published at the beginning of 2015.
  • Facebook has become a Reality Trap; it is now a primary news source for many users, and this is affected by the algorithms that show users what they want to see. In turn, this affects how the media both receives and distributes their messages. The Facebook newsfeed essentially curates a custom reality for each of its users and now communicating across realities has language barriers. According to Mark, this is ruining democracy; “Democracy is a social agreement” and Facebook has become “corrosive of consensus”.
  • Data Sets are everywhere, and being collected and sold by everyone. If you buy a couple of complimentary data sets and line them up, although you won’t have a person’s name and exact date of birth, you will have an incredibly rich profile that will tell you what you need to know about a person, or type of person, in order to effectively advertise (commercially or politically) at them. “We live in a knowledge civilisation now,” says Mark and explains that although it used to be difficult and expensive to weaponize  information, now almost anybody can do it because it has become so cheap.
  • Digital Natives use Facebook differently to Gen Xers (thankfully, I’m in between). Where Gen Xers might rely on Facebook as a main way of accessing the internet, connecting with friends and family, and sharing what’s important to them, Digital Natives take a much more formal approach to the platform. Digital Natives tend to use private sharing systems, sharing with a few people in unobserved ecosystems. They approach Facebook as a formal online space, putting up carefully curated content and using it to engage with older generations who aren’t part of the private ecosystems that Digital Natives favour. They aren’t invested in Facebook emotionally, perhaps intuitively recognising the mess that previous generations have made of the social network, and choosing instead to spend their online time in other environments.

    I personally feel that I’m part of the in-between generation. I didn’t grow up with a smart phone in my hand, but I wasn’t part of the generation that built the web either. Sometimes my generation (Gen Y) gets lumped in with millennials, sometimes we get forgotten. I think generally we are also in-between in terms of our relationship to Facebook. At first we were emotionally invested in the platform, treating it like a grown-up version of MySpace, but in the last few years I’ve seen less and less posts in my newsfeed because we are migrating to other platforms, or posting less on social media generally.  The exception to the rule of course is when Gen Yers start having kids, then I have to unfollow friends to avoid a plague of baby photos in my feed!

There was a lot of information in the podcast that I’m still working on unpacking. The podcast was a result of Mark Pesce writing an article for Meanjin with the same title The Last Days of Reality and I have only skimmed it, but it is on my reading list. Wired also wrote an article this month about the past two years at Facebook and how it’s faced backlash for the proliferation of fake news and curated newsfeeds and has had to navigating coming to terms with the fact that it is both a platform and a publisher. Wired’s article is called Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook—and the World.

I think that all these podcasts and readings are going to link in nicely to my week one reading for COMU2140, another Wired article titled The Web Is Dead. Long Live The Internet which after a quick skim seems to be about how most people access the internet through closed systems like apps rather than through the wide open spaces that occur when using a web browser. The article was written eight years ago but still seems unnervingly relevant.

APA reference:
Ransom-Hughes, M. (Producer), Fidler, R. (Presenter), & Pesce, M. (Guest). (2018, January 30) Facebook and the last days of reality: futurist Mark Pesce [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/conversations-mark-pesce/9354558

On switching off

My dad has this question that he rhetorically throws around whenever he’s with company and someone ask a Google question (for example, what’s the third flavour in a B52 shot?). He says “Oh gee, if only one of us had a small computer like device that we could carry around in our pockets that has access to all of the answers in the world…” and then inevitably pulls out his phone and Googles the question.

What I’m trying to say is that sometimes phones are great devices that can help out in certain social situations. For example a trivia question argument between two friends, or letting someone know you’re lost or running late.

Sometimes though, phones and friends don’t mix. I’ve heard that some people have a rule when they go out to eat with friends, that everybody places their phone face-down on the end of the table and the first person to pick up their phone to check it, also picks up the entire bill. Not a bad rule, but the fact that it exists surely reflects something about our society.

For our IRL 2013 event, we thought it might be difficult to ask people to actually switch off their phones for an hour and a half. I framed that time by suggestion to the planning team that it’s the same length as a short movie, and most people can go that long without checking their phone (although I know I am guilty of taking a phone call mid-movie, only once and I left the theatre, but still…). We were so worried about having to control the no-mobile-phone rule during the event that we even considered making one person the anti-phone police for the event.

Thankfully it didn’t come to that. In fact, we actually forgot to get everyone to turn their phones off at the beginning of the event! The switching phones off video that you can see here is totally staged. It happened right at the end of the event, and if you look closely, you can even tell that some of the phones weren’t actually turned off, just the screens switched to blank!

What I thought was amazing was that even though we all had out phones in our bags or pockets, not one person even peeked at their screen during the event. Nobody was tempted to check what was happening online because we were all too busy enjoy ourselves in the moment.

I think it helped that we didn’t all know each other too well. It’s easy to be rude in front of friend you know well, as you’d expect their forgiveness and even their understanding. With strangers you don’t know what to expect. I also think it helped that we had a lot of activities planned, and there was no down-time where people were wandering around wondering what to do. Boredom very quickly leads to checking your phone, seeing if maybe there’s something better happening somewhere else.

Flipped Lecture 2 – Search

The second part of the documentary Download: The True Story Of The Internet was titled Search and I watched it with more interest than Browser Wars because I knew less about the topic. My notes from this segment:


The part that interested me the most was about advertising and how once that was done right, making money on the internet was now possible. I think that has impacted the way I use the internet the most. I can make money online if I wish (and I have through offering my services as a web designer and by publishing my own ebook) and that’s all possible because the search engines found a way to make money that wasn’t flashy flashy banner ads. I mean, that would have had to happen eventually, but it happened with Google stealing an idea from Oveture.

My final notes on this lecture say “Google mania –> Google phobia re: personal info” and I’d just like to say I think this is both totally valid and totally irrelevant. Yes, Google has access to a hell of a lot of our personal information (and they’re not the only ones) but that fact is so ubiquitous in our lives today that it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.

Flipped Lecture 1 – Browser Wars

I’ve started taking notes differently when I listen to lectures. My notes for part one of Download: The True Story Of The Internet look like this-

I watched part 1- Browser Wars. It’s about the world’s first graphical web browser and the trouble it caused in Silicon Valley. It was quite interesting, even though I knew a bit about the so called browser wars already.

In fact, unlike these people in the video below, I actually knew what a browser was before I watched this Browser Wars.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4MwTvtyrUQ&w=560&h=315]

My dad sent me that video a few years ago so I could laugh at it. I made me a bit sad actually.

Anyway, I use Google Chrome as my browser and I’m happy to see how far they’ve come since being releassed in Spetember of 2008.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

Anyway, I’m deviating from the doco a bit as it focused on the demolition of Netscape Navigator and the maliciousness of Microsoft in creating Internet Explorer to get rid of the competition. Although, I guess what goes around comes around as Internet Explorer is now no longer the most popular browser…

Search Engine Comparison

They say change is good, but I am not convinced. Google has been my go to search engine for at least the last 9 years, but what about before that? Way back in primary school I was using search engines like Yahoo, Dogpile and Ask Jeeves (for kids). I was also using cool programs like logo, but that’s beside the point.

So today, I’ll be comparing these three search engines and seeing what they’re like now. I’ll start with a relatively easy search term, “The Little Prince”. It’s been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d see what the Internet has to offer in regards to one of the books of my childhood.

Yahoo and Dogpile both brought me comparable results to Google (because of course, I couldn’t resist “Googling” it as well) but Ask Jeeves brought me some really whacked out results. First, I was surprised at the sponsored links at the top, they certainly weren’t there a decade ago (oh god, a whole decade, now I feel old). Then there were two relevant and useful links, all good, followed by eight, yes eight, links to Disney sites or toy stores. Clearly a search engine aimed at kids, unfortunately, not as good as it seemed to be a decade ago.

But wait, perhaps I’m being unfair. A decade ago I was using Ask Jeeves to do research for my projects, searching for terms like “What do koalas eat?” and “Where is krakatoa?”. So let’s try all three search engines with the question “Why do volcanoes erupt?” and see what happens…

Ah! All three search engines return useful links. The Ask Jeeves results were aimed more at kids with simpler explanations and more kid friendly websites. So, much better this time round, however they still had the sponsored results at the top and bottom of the search results. Dogpile had a long list of sponsored results at the top it it’s page, but that’s because they’re a combination of Google promoted results and Yahoo promoted results (Dogpile uses a combination search, drawing on results from Google, Yahoo, Yandex and Bing). Yahoo on the other hand had no promoted results for this search querie, but did have an ad for itself at the bottom of the results claiming to be “promotional results” when really it was totally unrelated.

Okay, but let’s get rational here. I don’t really need to know why volcanoes erupt these days, I mean, I’m studying at university for goodness sake. I need to know things like how citizen journalism has affected Malaysia. So let’s try searching “How has citizen journalism affected Malaysian media?” and see what we get.

Right. Ask Jeeves has returned not one useful or relevant link. At all. But Yahoo and Dogpile? Both have plenty of relevant links, both are nicely laid out, easy to navigate, and come with categories up the top to sort results. Dogpile has two main advantages at the moment, the first being it’s suggested searches on the side and the second being the cute dog who I presume is the one doing the fetching every time I click “fetch”. Wait, I lied. It has three advantages. The third is it’s ability to pull results from Google and Yahoo as well as Bing and Yandex. This means it gets a good mix of results and beside each result it tells you where it was found (for example, exclusively on one search engine or on many).

So out of these three search engines, my favourite is Dogpile. Of course, I could set it as my homepage (except I don’t actually have or use a homepage) or I could set it as my default search engine with my web browser, but I’m still way too attached to Google to do that. Instead, I’m going to add it to my bookmarks bar and use it next time I’m tempted to click to the second page of results on Google. Because, I mean, who does that?

News From The Other Side Of The World

It’s been nice having my Google Alerts sitting in the bottom of my reader the last couple of days. I mean, mostly. It’s also kinda sucked cause it feels like just another thing I don’t have the time to read… but it’s also been good, as I can keep up with the news relating to Watoto, Uganda and Africa.

I must say I was a little disappointed with the African news results, only because there was so much Olympic news in there, and in general the comments on such news articles were in serious need of some moderating!

There were only three results for my Watoto alert, two relating to their world famous choirs and one about a scandalous land grab that upon reading the actual article turned out to have no actual scandal related to the church.

By far the most interesting alert was the one I set up for news in Uganda, and truthfully, this is the only one I won’t be deleting after I finish this post. I have a personal affinity for Uganda having travelled there twice in the last three years and made connections with the country and her people while there.

I read about the 40 year anniversary of Idi Amin expelling Asians from the country. I read about the Gay Pride weekend that was being held in the botanic gardens of Entebbe (a place I have visited and so can vividly imagine what the gatherings would have looked like). And I read that the HIV rate in Uganda is, sadly, on the rise again.

I am currently in the middle of a lack-of-travel slump and reading these tid-bits from Uganda really perked me up. I’m going to keep my alert for news from Uganda for a few more weeks, but keep the pressure off to check it all the time. It’s kind of a handy way to keep in touch with the news without having to hunt it down myself.

Google Alerts

I set up three Google Alerts for the search terms of Watoto, Uganda and Africa. I set each alert to only show me the news and to go straight to my reader instead of clogging my inbox.

I’m going to give it a few days and see what kind of news I get from these alerts. I’ve not used Google Alerts before and I’m interested to see if it’s any good. I’m glad I could skip the email deliveries though, I get enough junk in my inbox as it is!

Have you used Google Alerts? Did you even know you could subscribe via RSS? Tell me in the comments