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This article was published on April 4, 2011

Dear Algorithms, why Google’s +1 is not the social web

Dear Algorithms, why Google’s +1 is not the social web
Axelle Tessandier
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Axelle Tessandier

Talker, greener, thinker, reader, writer, greater, faster, better, P5er, former @GAFFTA Resident and Marketing @scoopit. Talker, greener, thinker, reader, writer, greater, faster, better, P5er, former @GAFFTA Resident and Marketing @scoopit.

Dear Algorithms,

You were supposed to be the solution to all of my problems, helping me cut down on the time it takes to find, dig and explore information. The wait time between looking for something and knowing something is almost gone. Do you remember our excitement when Google Instant came into our lives to save us 3 seconds for every search? It is great to access information at the speed of Google, but it can feel pointless if you can not share the experience or benefit from others who’ve gone through the process. Ironically, this “immediate gratification” says standup comedian Peter Holmes is ruining everything as “the time between not knowing and knowing is so brief that knowing feels exactly like not knowing. So life is meaningless!”.

Even if robots get smarter and smarter every day, we must not forget that they cannot do everything. Watson won Jeopardy and it left us a bit scared. What does it mean for humanity? Simply, we know how to create very powerful tools to challenge and question the world. But could Watson share his insights with me? Watson was inspiring not because he won but for the reflections and discussions he provoked.

Nothing will ever beat the human touch. We are digital social animals: our screens are a medium and will never replace my need for human interaction. To the contrary, we want to feel even more social through the Web. Does interacting on the Internet have to be synonymous with giving up on “real life”, on real human connections? As humans, we always want to make new connections and to explore. Social is a part of the human condition.

Google search was never enough. It certainly turned heads as it showed us the crazy amount of information available at the tip of our fingers. But while algorithms may get us more data faster than ever before, it is still without the human touch or sensibility. I want humanrithms. I want to use technology, not to be used by it.

So here comes the latest innovation, the revolutionary change in search activity on the Internet: Google’s ”+1” is just another click to share our insights. Is this really what I expect from the “social web”? No, because I’ll let you in one a secret: Google +1 is not the social web.

We take so much for granted that we do not really question it anymore. Twitter is “social”, Facebook is “social”, and +1 includes personalized recommendations, which is social by definition. But I think in the age of digital abundance, it is much more complicated than that. Bringing a “+1” button to represent the human connection on the biggest playground in the world is in the best case a fun gimmick and in the worst case, just a new function to increase revenue and the noise. What does “social” mean? A simple question but with so many answers.
You cannot build a conversation or a real exchange without being heard. Knowledge cannot be shared without listening to each other. An interesting dialogue can inspire and even change people. The Web has this ability.

But Google’s “+1” or Facebook’s “Like” does not do this. What is the point in telling you what my latest favorite movie or article was if we all say it at the same time? This highly lucrative and commercialized “social web” is not really about “the content+me”, but “the information overload + 2 000 000 000 web users”. As Martin Hilbert explains, it is hard to define the amount of information we make: “the equivalent of 80 Library of Alexandrias per person on the planet.”

Helping us to find the relevant content is not enough. Building a context in which one can hear individual recommendations will be the key to be sure your voice suddenly meets another one. Data and algorithms are not enough to make sense of the web. Contextual stories and humanrithms will build this open dialogue, which is everything but virtual.

At this year’s SXSW, Gary Vaynerchuk said “If content is King, context is god”.

Axelle Tessandier

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