Why Google+ Circles Will Only Add to the "Filter Bubble"

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Here's something to think about. We recently asked if Google and Facebook should be filtering our content for us. This was an article I wrote in response to recent discussion about what Eli Pariser coined as "The Filter Bubble" - the concept of our web content being increasingly filtered for us by personalization algorithms on many of the sites we use.

For example, Google shows us personalized search results. Facebook chooses the stories to show us in our news feeds rather than just showing everything from every friend. Meanwhile, who know what we're missing?

It's an interesting discussion, but now there is a new element with the emergence of Google+. With Google+ content is being even more filtered than it is on Facebook, but it's by those sharing it rather than the algorithm.

This filtering comes from Google's "Circles" concept, which lets you share with specific groups of friends. You can share publicly or you can share with specific circles. With circles, people are forced to choose whether they want to share with every single person who chooses to follow them (which may or may not be people they know personally) or certain people that they do know.

This is all great from a privacy perspective, and Google's system has received much praise for that. At the same time, however, how much interesting content are we missing out on because we're not in the right circle?

Right now, if I'm friends with you on Facebook, I can see an interesting link that you've shared (unless you've specifically blocked me). Even if Facebook's algorithm didn't show it to me in the news feed, I still have access to it. I can go see it on your Wall for example. I can see it in an app like LinkNotify (disclosure: property of WebProNews publisher iEntry). The point is, that content is accessible to me.

On Google+, I have to be in the specific circle that you chose to share that piece of content with. There will likely be many, many times when people share something with a certain circle of friends, not because of the privacy element where they just don't want others to see it, but just because they think it will appeal more to that group. Meanwhile, those of us not in that circle may be missing out on something that we would've found truly interesting or helpful.

If Google+ grows to Facebook's size, this would no doubt be a whole lot of filtered content, and I'd be surprised if the majority of it was filtered strictly because of actual privacy concerns.

Is this a major problem? Probably not, but I think it does speak to the increasingly filtered "bubble" of content consumption web users are finding themselves in whether they realize it or not.

On the bright side, it should help to filter out a great deal of "noise". Also, there will be a whole lot of Twitter-esque public sharing. I think it will be interesting to observe how people use the Circles feature as time goes on. Will the majority of user posts be public or go to certain circles? I find that in the short time I've been using it, I've trended towards more filtered circle-based sharing than public updates. How are you using it?

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

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