Three Paradoxes of the Internet Age – Part Two

Individual perception of increased choice can occur while the overall choice pool is getting smaller

This gem from Whimsley makes the point – with extensive statistical modeling supporting the argument – that our algorithm-obsessed, long tail merchants are actually depleting the overall choice pool despite the fact that as individuals we may be experiencing a sense of more choice through recommendations engines…

Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture.

In short, the long tail has gangrene at its extremity – the niche. More disarming is the conclusion that it isn’t just the output of our recommendation algorithms that is leading to what the author calls “monopoly populism”and the end of niche culture:

“The recommender “system” could be anything that tends to build on its own popularity, including word of mouth…Our online experiences are heavily correlated, and we end up with monopoly populism…A “niche”, remember, is a protected and hidden recess or cranny, not just another row in a big database. Ecological niches need protection from the surrounding harsh environment if they are to thrive. Simply putting lots of music into a single online iTunes store is no recipe for a broad, niche-friendly culture.

The network effects that so characterize Internet services are a positive feedback loop where the winners take all (or most). The issue isn’t what they bring to the table, it is what they are leaving behind.

here is a link to yesterday’s post: More access to information doesn’t bring people together, often it isolates us.

Tomorrow: The myth of personal empowerment takes root amidst a massive loss of personal control.

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