Quick Reviews: The Filter Bubble & The Googlization of Everything

I’ve just finished reading The Filter Bubble and The Googlization of Everything back to back. Both books are quite readable and very interesting (either author would make a good MLA’13 speaker).
There are some aspects of these books that are similar, e.g. filtering the content shown when we search and selling out mouse clicks, but even with the overlap, both books are worth reading.
From a medical librarian’s perspective I think we must re-educate any health care professional or student who thinks Google searching is enough (let’s not consider Google Scholar at this point). Google does not charge us to search because it makes its money off of our opinions as measured by mouse clicks. And it stores these opinions to learn about you and return better searches. The page rank algorithms that are also used, don’t decide what is best, but what sites have the most links and visits (I realize this is based on citation indexing but there are concerns about that too). Google also used cookies and URLs to provide location specific retrieval. All this means that a medical search is unlikely to pull up the most relevant or evidence-based materials. Filters are a problem as well because many people don’t realize their results are being filtered based on past choices and location, and we don’t really know what the algorithms are anyway.
Google Scholar can be useful for searching for obscure terms in full-text articles, but a search for common terms will yield an overabundance of results. It can also be useful for multidisciplinary searching or subject searching when an institution does not have a paid database covering the topic(s). But searchers have no idea how it ranks and sorts results, and the coverage from suppliers/publishers is uneven.
Politically, these books are fascinating. Pariser suggests that as we let filters decide what we will see, we let some algorithm act as a censor for the information we retrieve. Google filters on the basis of our past mouse clicks and purchases. Facebook filters on the basis of who and what we click on and provides personalized ads based on your ‘Likes’ and your friends’ ‘Likes”. So you aren’t seeing everything and you could potentially miss important events. These filters reduce the chance of serendipitous discovery, and Vaidhyanathan suggests this will also affect scholarship. Some materials could be filtered out if a student or researcher uses Google to find what they need.
There is so much more in these books about political activism, the Google Books scanning project, the effects on personal and collective memory, and more. It will take a while for me to digest it all, but from now on my teaching sessions will include a warning about using Google.
Pariser, Eli. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. Penguin Press; 2011.
Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything: (And Why We Should Worry). University of California Press; 2011.

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2 Responses to Quick Reviews: The Filter Bubble & The Googlization of Everything

  1. Vedana Vaidhyanathan says:

    Interesting post about my brother’s book. You’re right, he would make an interesting choice for a future MLA. Maybe I will volunteer that sometime to the organizing committee.

  2. Siva Vaidhyanathan says:

    Thanks so much for this! My sister, Vedana Vaidhyanathan, is an MLA member and a librarian at the U of Miami Medical School. So this means a lot to me.

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