02 February 2011

Exploiting "Like" Is A Slippery Slope.

Call me old fashioned - but when I like something, it should have meaning and be relevant and something that represents a real attribute.

In today's somewhat hedonistic environment where subtlety and nuance have been replaced by quantity over quality and arbitrary measurements of both - the word LIKE has become a victim to over use in the same way that - well - Windows has.

Until now I didn't pay attention to things like (meaning similar to) the "Like" button on Facebook. To me the misuse was abundantly clear. People are sitting there clicking the "Like" button like chimpanzees in the zoo. Click the button and you get something. The Pavlovian response becomes a normal conditioned response rather than a meaningful expression of human emotion.

However the use of the "Like" button has become part of the mechanism of relevance. Another component of the "Gaming" of the system of search that reduces our human ability to express ourselves in ways that - shall we say define our humanism. IE what differentiates us from a machine.

Don't believe me?

On December 15th 2010,amongst many Bing announcements that day - the Search Division of Microsoft announced even deeper integration of Facebook data into Bing’s search results and rankings. Up to this point Bing had integrated “liked” content from Facebook into its search results in a distinct content areas. The change was that now it was using the "Like" as a general criteria for ranking. Further the only viable Google Search alternative now openly states that your friends’ Facebook activity will be “influencing ranking on Bing and will lead to personalized search rankings.”

As several analysts point out the basic risk here is that social media “gaming” will lead to clutter in Bing’s search results. Not only that (clutter) but also all the bots and scripts - malicious or benign - will now skew results. While this is supposed to be just an opt-in feature and disconnecting your Facebook account with Bing turns off the addition of “likes” in your Bing search results - we all know that the default situation is to leave it turned on and results will again be skewed permanently. Or at least until the geniuses in Redmond try another feature to out Google Google or simply because they were bored that day and had nothing else to do now that stock clock watching has ceased to have any meaning on the Campus astride the 520 Freeway.

Not to be outdone - the droids from the Googleplex confirmed that they too were happily using Facebook, Twitter and other social media services to influence their rankings.

Thanks to Professor Paul for pointing out perhaps the drivers for this. It took me a little while to cotton on - but after looking at the latest financials from Google it starts to make sense. Google is seeing basic search as a declining share of their gross revenues. With about as much ad revenue sucked from the traditional media as has already converted - social media and social "ad dollars" are where the growth action is. (Chart courtesy of eMarketer).

To me this is all very scary. I see that the human levels of emotion - ranging from love to hate are being turned into machine comprehensible elements. Thus in turn making machines more easily capable to replicate human activity. Let's face it the machine already has an advantage. In this phase of human development unlike any other development before it - we do not have the power to harness the result. Consider previous developments: Fire, speed etc. in each of those cases the human intellect was able to master the power unleashed and contain it. This time the actual power unleashed is synthetic intellect. Dumbed down into forms that the machine can demonstrate its superiority we are now at the disadvantage of the machine who has infinite memory and ordering capability. Reducing our humanism to facsimiles of differentiated components such as love and hate, heart and soul if you will then synthesizing these factors into the "wisdom" of the crowd reduces our ability to display the uniqueness of our true ourselves.

And if nothing else it means we will now be guaranteed to lose in Jeopardy and Alex Trebak will not be needed either. Click on the link to see the wired story on how IBM's SuperComputer Watson will compete against two of the winning-est contestants of the American Game Show.

And this is why it makes me sad (human emotion) and just a little scared.

Er. cheers?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

using the "Like" as a general criteria

"criterion" surely?