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The Great Eucalyptus Debate: A Love/Hate Relationship


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Good reading; thanks for the link.

As the article mentions, tailored search results would be fine in certain circumstances IF we were made aware of what sorts of "tailoring" was going on. The trouble is that we aren't, and SEO and other nonsense happen behind the scenes, which subtly shape results, search patterns, and traffic (and thus control the almighty advertising dollar).

When I'm looking for something specific, I typically eschew the type of open, federated search (a single search across multiple sources) that Google offers, for a search within a narrower, specific database.

A couple of things I do to increase the neutrality of my search results include:
(1) signing in to Google only for necessary services like Calendar or Mail, and never searching while signed in
(2) using all browsers in "private mode" so that cookies and other tracking functions are disabled when the browser is closed
(3) setting my Google location as "USA" rather than "Pacifica, CA"

Google will automatically tailor searches based on IP location; to change this, perform your search and then click on the "search tools" header above your column of results.

It appears to me that there has been an ebb and flow to online information over the decades, swinging from Balkanization to an open free-for-all and back again. We've gone from the siloed access points of Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL, to the Wild West of the open web, where "information just wants to be free!" The openness led to the formation of thousands of specific communities of web forums and then it swung back, coalescing into services such as Facebook. Now that crowd. too, is beginning to break apart as we reject its wide-openness. Rinse and repeat.

News was freely available and then came the rise of paywalls. Now we turn to aggregators like Huffington Post or the Drudge Report to pull it all together for us in one place again. But in most cases we tend to self-select based on our predilections, and I wonder if the ease with which the Internet allows us to do so makes us more insular and less well-informed; we aren't exposed to ideas and discussions we wouldn't have otherwise run across or considered.

It would be interesting to read an analysis of today's political climate against this new paradigm, where it's easier to find information that buttresses our viewpoints and preconceived notions, while being tougher for us to break out of our echo chambers. I'll bet there's some correlation there.

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