The biggest question that Graph Search raises – and this applies to the personalised web overall – is whether personalisation will ultimately destroy discovery. The premise behind the personalised web is clear: When our time online is at a premium, coupled with the amount of data about ourselves we are freely sharing, there is a clear opportunity for web services and social platforms to automatically personalise content and show only what’s most relevant to us. Where does this leave spontaneity, and broadening your information sources outside your immediate interests and activity?

Customisation versus personlisation

It’s worth clarifying what we mean when we say the personal web. This isn’t about building a bespoke online experience through adding contacts to a social profile, following people you like or subscribing to feeds of your favourite topics. That’s customisation. Building an experience within Facebook, Twitter or an RSS reader that gives you bespoke content that, importantly, you have selected.
What we really mean when we say personalisation is when technology does this part of the thinking for you. By deploying algorithms and tracking you through cookies, it serves you content or even individuals that it ‘knows’ you will like, based on your browsing activity.
The personalised web is by no means a new concept, but with the current data economy and the flow of information being traded between users and digital platforms, personalisation is due to reach exponential levels. The concept of the internet is gone. It is now your internet.
The impact of this can be seen in Google’s new product Now. Running on Android, this essentially lets your mobile do the thinking for you, based on the amount of information you have about your life, through your handset.
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It works on a system of ‘cards’ like travel updates as soon as you leave the house, or automatically displaying your boarding card when you enter the airport. This is personalisation at its most efficient and groundbreaking.
But is this taking the concept of personalisation too far? Does it ultimately make us too reliable on the technologies around us, removing spontaneity and just thinking for ourselves? What if developments in technology are ultimately detrimental to our personal efficiency?
This is not to suggest that technology is actually damaging our brains. You would never find me arguing that anyway (and what people who argue that should really say is the ‘application’ of technology as opposed to the technology itself), but it would be hundreds of years before any biological change like that could occur, but the immediate, environmental effects are very real. We are creatures of habit, after all.

The clue is in the title

Lest we forget, it’s the World Wide Web. That is, an infrastructure that connects information to present it to the end user within a range of growing media. Any system that advocates closing that web to some degree (i.e. only showing you the information that has been deemed most relevant to you) fundamentally changes what the World Wide Web can offer. It is neither ‘worldly’ nor ‘wide’ but is a web that pertains to you.
Uniquely individual and unlike the web that anyone else will see. Yet the advent of the personalised web is an unstoppable juggernaut, with organisations increasingly favouring personalised web experiences. Indeed, 52% of marketers agree that ‘the ability to personalise content is fundamental to our online strategy.’
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The motivation behind this is clear. That social media has allowed anyone to become a publisher, where we are all journalists in a loose definition of the word, creating and publishing content daily, we now have more of that content to sift through. So yes, technologies that can aide this discovery are welcome, but there is a threat within this that ultimately closes off access to all the information we have a right to see.

Digital isolation

If we rely too much on personalisation, seeing what an algorithm or publisher has decided we should see, we risk becoming digitally isolated. When our communities and information sources are so carefully constructed, it thereby follows that you would only become exposed to a certain set of information, within your interests, industry of work or personal behaviour.