Let me start with a few examples.
I have a particular interest in New Zealand. I used to go to the Google New Zealand site because its algorithms allowed me to pick up New Zealand pages that I might not otherwise find. That is no longer the case. When I go to tools to limit my search to New Zealand pages only, the site knows that I am from Australia; the only choice I am offered is Australian pages. And this on the New Zealand site. I can no longer find pages or items that I knew were there.
I follow BBC News among others to provide me with an alternative non-Australian view on events. I see a substantial number of Australian stories. I do not know whether or not my news is being tailored by my geographic location. I suspect so.
At the end of last year I spent some time looking at rental, house sales and AirBnb sites in Armidale. Within 48 hours, my Facebook feeds were running ads in all three areas. Are you still looking? I didn't actually object to this, but I was impressed by the speed with which my searches on other sites translated to Facebook.
I use Google image search all the time. That service has become less and less effective. There are fewer and fewer historical photos, more and more current crap, quite a bit of which has nothing to do with the topic. Part of the change is due to increased sensitivity about copyright, part to volume. The problem is compounded by the way in which other sites change and merge. Google closed Panoramio, a hugely valuable site. I downloaded some key photos before the site closed, but not all. Picture Australia, once a key photo site, was merged into Trove with consequent loss.
Is Facebook killing science news? I can see his point in that so many people seem to be getting their scientific views from Facebook feeds as opposed to more objective or analytical sources. However, I don't share it.
Facebook is not a news channel, rather a platform for personal opinion and personal sharing. This can create an echo chamber effect and disseminate the false, including some of the strangest conspiracy theories. However, in the end, it is up to people to decide what they read and don't read. They still have access to other sources.
In a way, John is caught on the horns of a dilemma of his own making. He is an effective user of social media, I really value his contribution here, but the platforms he uses so effectively can be used by others.
But that still leaves the problems I have identified, the way in which internet companies are increasingly tailoring their responses to what they think we are interested in compared to what we actually want, the way in which an increasingly crowded internet makes information search difficult, the way in which the combination of legal issues such as copyright interact with structural changes in content provision act to limit choice.
These are the issues we have to work around.
Postscript 4 April 2018
Gordon Smith kindly provided this answer to the conundrum how to access Good sites from other countries. It seems to work:
To find NZ content (for example): go to local Google search web page, click ”Settings” at foot of page (right hand side), select ”advanced search”, change ”region” to ”New Zealand” in drop-down menu. Add search terms at top of the same page. Click blue ”Advanced Search” button.Alternatively, in the New Zealand case, this link also from Gordon should take you straight there. If you type in railways, for example, New Zealand railways should come up first.
Postscript 2, 5 April 2018
Just to share with you a frustration from today that links to this discussion. I was writing my Armidale Express column. I wanted some stuff on the dance summer schools held at UNE. These were quite important. I knew there was material previously available. I went to images first, and the only relevant image now available was on one of my earlier posts. This happens quite a bit.
Mmm. I went to that post because I knew it had some links. All those links were dead. The irony was that in the post I had refrained from copying material because I wanted people to read it in the original. Now I regret that.
I know that I have been blogging for twelve years, but I do struggle a bit with the idea that in a changing internet my blogs are becoming a source of record!. .