Squawking Tech Users

Personalized Content is Now Evil

Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote in the New York Times that when we go online, “each of us is our own editor, our own gatekeeper. We select the kind of news and opinions that we care most about.” This, apparently, is a bad thing, as it insulates us in our own “hermetically sealed political chambers.”

Brian Lowry of Variety got in the act two days later. Mr. Lowry also seems terrified that the news experience is becoming more personalized, and that people might actually get to choose what they want to read. He specifically called our site, Veritocracy, a “worrisome tool” that “limits online exposure,” creating “hermetically sealed thought-bubbles.” (Is it possible that “hermetically sealed” was the term of the week at big media’s weekend getaway?)

To be honest, I’m not sure either has actually used social media. Mr. Lowry, in particular, says that users of sites like Veri “never need see an article or link that challenges their existing opinions.” This is one criticism I never expected, given that we built Veritocracy to make it easier to find multiple perspectives on the topics you want to read about (from blogs, mainstream media, readers, etc). This is possible today only because there are so many unique and diverse perspectives in the blogosphere and social media.

To some extent, this feels like old media looking for a boogeyman, and not taking the time to learn about why these new technologies are so popular. The idea that mainstream media provides a noble, unbiased, universal truth, is simply wrong. If anything, sites like Veritocracy are making better information more accessible, and eliminating the inevitable biases that come from having a limited amount of human editors deciding what people should read.

This isn’t to bash mainstream media — it still has a tremendous amount of value, and I personally read the NY Times, WSJ, BusinessWeek, and, yes, Variety (among others). But it’s now just one form of consumption among many, and I think that scares people who a) work in that space, and b) don’t understand the other side.

Mr. Lowry never talked to me directly about what Veri does or how it works. Instead, he seems to have cherry-picked bits of information from an email that a friend of ours sent out to his own list the day we launched. That’s unfortunate, because as I’ve said, Veri’s goal is simply to help people get better information about the topics they care about. That, to me, is something we all should be rooting for.

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