Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sorry, but now we know: you're a dog.

Twenty years ago, the New Yorker published Peter Steiner's wonderful send-up of the Internet, perhaps the greatest Internet cartoon ever written: On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog

Well, twenty years have passed.

In his talk at this year's GDC, Raph Koster picks up the story, and Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander summarizes it for us

We now live in an age where the internet filters results for you based on assumptions about what you're like drawn from geographic location or other patterns. This creates a phenomenon called a "filter bubble," says Koster, where increasingly one's perception of the world is led by online targeting. Your average online user will increasingly see only those news sources and even political candidates that agree with their own views -- and anyone who's ever Facebook-blocked a relative with offensive political views has become complicit in this sort of filtering.


Without clear lines and well-bounded communities, people can become confused in a way that leads to conflict. For example, with Kickstarter and Early Access games, users become hostile and controversies arise because the distinction between a "customer" and a "funder", a creator and a user, is indistinct; confusion about different types of roles and relationships within the game industry gave rise to last year's "controversy that shall not be named."

When you look at modern communities, from Twitter and Reddit to Facebook and chan boards, all the best practices -- keeping identity persistent, having a meaningful barrier to entry, specific roles, groups well-bordered and full anonymity at least somewhat difficult -- have been thrown out the window, giving rise to toxicity online, the veterans say.

As Koster notes on his blog, the discussion continues across the gaming community.

But it's not just gaming. For that, we turn to the always-fascinating, if complex, Don Marti, with his latest note: Digital dimes in St. Louis.

Don points to Jason Kint's recent article: Unbridled Tracking and Ad Blocking: Connect the Dots.

As part of my presentation, I shared a couple of charts that caused a bit of a stir among the audience of media execs charged with leading their organizations digital media ad sales businesses. The fact that these particular slides triggered such a reaction struck me as particularly timely because later that day the White House released its proposal for a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which would require companies to clearly communicate their data practices to consumers and give them more control over what information is collected and how it is used.

Don wonders what all this tracking technology is destroying:

So how do we keep the local papers, the people who are doing the hard nation-protecting work of Journalism, going?

Where is all this rooted? Koster suggests that it's that gruesome and awful creation of technology, the filter bubble that Eli Pariser identified some five years ago:

For example, on Google, most people assume that if you search for BP, you’ll get one set of results that are the consensus set of results in Google. Actually, that isn’t true anymore. Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the “filter bubble”: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.

It's all terribly complex; it's not precisely clear where the slippery slope began, and how we crossed the line.

But the first step to getting out of the hole is to stop digging.

And to do that, you have to have the discussion; you have to know you're in the hole.

Thank you, Messrs Koster and Marti and Kint and Pariser. It's not a happy story to shout to the world, but you must keep telling it.

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