6. Overabundance of Disorganized and Unverified Information (search is broken)

10+ Disruptive Factors Transforming the World of Education and Learning — Consequences, Opportunities, Tools

Online search is increasingly the vehicle through which many people find out, inform themselves and learn about most things they are interested in.

Although its commercial interests, profit-driven business model, secretive approach, and some of its technology limitations would really not suggest to leave that much power to Google, many of our information decisions are influenced, if not altogether driven by what this search engine suggests back to anyone of our queries.

As a consequence search plays a very critical role in our present society, and it would only seem wise for all that we do not readily accept the idea of relying on an auto-generated list of popular web sites ranked by a set of secret algorithms.

But, the reality is that without really being much aware of it, we have slowly but vastly delegated to Google the task of deciding for us what is most relevant and what is not, over just about any topic we can think of.

The issue here is double:

a) One private profit-driven entity filtering and determining algorithmically the information bubble we live in

b) Secret algorithms vetting and deciding for us what we should pay attention to and what not

Not only.

We have also allowed Google to customize and filter the results its shows us to a set of variables over which we have little or no control. This limits our views and ability to think outside of the box, in new, useful and alternative ways.

Google’s background and strength is in providing us with a ranked list of web pages that contain the set of keywords you have specified. But between a set of keyword-matched web pages ranked according to secret rules, and a well-reviewed round-up of the best resources on a specific topic, curated and ordered by a true subject-matter expert, there is quite some distance.

Our learning interests are not always the need to find the closest Pizza place.

But why, you may rightly ask, to question Google or other search engines ability to sort and classify results when they have done it for so long already?

The reasons could be many, but they key ones I see, can be summed up in this short list:

a) Most Internet users believe that search engines are unbiased and that they do provide the most relevant results for what I need to find out. They do not question or doubt the secret system by which these information results are provided. The reality is that “More and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror, reflecting your own interests while algorithmic observers watch what you click. (Source: Eli Pariser)

b) The quantity of information available online has grown and keeps growing at a tremendous pace. Classifying and organizing what is relevant becomes therefore increasingly difficult, given that ideally, what may be a valid set of search results for me may not be as relevant or useful to another person.

c) Lists of text results are becoming less and less useful. Valuable context is missing. Google search results offer less and less of a comprehensive quality view on a topic and more and more a window on a few results, surrounded by commercial paid ads.

d) Internet users like me increasingly want to make sense and understand deeply a specific topic rather than finding a set of short blog articles on it.

e) To solve these issues, search engines and social networks have long been developing personalized results. Personalization, the one generated by invisible filters on Facebook, Google and elsewhere, predetermines what is relevant for you, based on history, preferences, and the choices your online friends. But you as a user have little or no way to tweak this or to establish which friends to trust and which not.

f) Information personalization may be good to suggest what to buy next, according to what your friends have liked or bought before you, but it may not be the best choice when it comes to making informed decisions or understanding an issue by analyzing different viewpoints.

These, are the first, quite evident reasons pointing to a growing problem we have not paid much attention to until now: Centralized and secretive information filtering, for which you and I have never consciously opted in, but which increasingly directs what you and I get to see.

So, while we are literally submerged by a tsunami of information coming from all kinds of sources, we have no corresponding, balancing effort to actually vet, filter, organize and make sense of all this information.

Historically this role should have ideally been played by newspapers and journalists.

But as of today, outside of the due exceptions, I do not see journalists equipped (and interested) to play this role effectively, as they have mostly become relay antennas for big corporate / government interests (propaganda engines) for which they are often unaware propaganda puppets, and/or are part of organizations that are still deeply entrenched in the advertising business model which forces them to go for eyeballs, page views counts and the lowest common denominator (funny cats).

So, who do we go to, for quality information on any subject if Google, and most of the mainstream news publishers, are not good enough?

Who will you trust when it comes to find out what alternatives to a problem are out there and you have only an Internet connection? How much individual freedom do you want to sacrifice to an algorithm, no matter how accurate?

Passionate friends is the answer.

The network second layer.

In 2004 Stephen Downes anticipated its coming and described it like this:

“What should happen, what is already happening, is that a large network of sites like Edu_RSS should emerge, forming in essence a second layer in the network.
The result of this second layer is that the internet will self-organize, that information generated in a thousand or a million places will cluster, become composite, interpreted, specialized, and produce highly targeted, highly specific resource feeds at the output end.”
Source: MasterNewMedia

The network second layer could be considered a new type of search resource, and it potentially could be the best antidote to Google’s monopoly while being also its ideal complement: Quality, vetted and reviewed expert hubs, directories, catalogs and custom search engines curated by subject-matter experts and by people specifically interested in a topic.

Are content curation and the future of search converging?

Likely.

“The first form of search is Google, and this will continue to be important, as much from habit, and as much as there isn’t much of a choice.
The second is tapping into your own social network to find what you need. This is limited to the subjects that your social circle knows about and depending on its size, and the time of day, it might not yield much.
Also, there is a less trust in “peers” as a recent Edelman survey found, and more trust in “experts.”
The third way to search is by looking at content that has been curated by “experts.” You don’t have to be an accredited expert but you have to be passionate about your topic.
SiliconValleyWatcher 2011 — Tom Forenski
http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2011/01/the_three_forms.php

Consequences

1. While people increasingly rely on search rather than on traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers) to get their information needs satisfied, they trust more what their friends and experts in their networks say, than what claimed by appointed officials, celebrities, journalists or brands.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2015
Edelman Trust Barometer 2015

2. It becomes increasingly hard for the layman to be able to learn more about a topic by simply looking at Google search results. Google results are great when searching for a product, person, place or any other specific thing, but not very good when you want to learn or find put more about a specific topic or issue about which you know little or nothing.

3. Google itself relies increasingly, inside its search results, on curated collections, galleries and directories curated by humans.

4. Google may lose some of its monopoly on search as alternative vertical and specialized search engines increase in number and quality.


Opportunities

  1. Opportunity for individuals, startups and organizations to become hubs and points-of-reference in specialized niches and vertical areas of interest by curating and organizing before others do, the best content and resources already available on the topic.
  2. Business opportunity for specialized search engines, directories and catalogues created by subject-matter experts and continuously refined and improved with crowdsourced feedback, suggestions and corrections from the public.

Resources

Examples of quality, vetted and reviewed expert hubs, directories, catalogs and custom search engines curated by subject-matter experts and by people specifically interested in a topic.

  • EdShelf.com
    A curated catalog of educational tools reviewed and vetted by teachers and parents.
  • T5
    Best free tools for online communication professionals.
  • Art of the Title
    A curated catalog of best film/TV title sequences
  • DOC Club
    world’s best documentaries, series, and originals, handpicked by tastemakers with unique perspectives.
  • Note and Point
    Gallery of top quality slide decks to take inspiration from.
  • NomadList
    Crowdsourced and curated catalog of the best places in the world where to work for digital nomads
  • The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever
    Curated collection of over 350 speeches from 1774 onward.
  • Elearning Examples
    Gallery of hand-picked examples of great visuals and interactive graphics for learning uses and applications.

(You can look at the above as tangible examples of search solutions that if used, are orders of magnitude better than what Google can offer when asked on these specific matters. As a matter of fact, in the best case scenarios it is Google itself that suggests these very resources in its search result pages).

  • Alternativeto.net
    Crowdsourced directory of tools and services designed to help users find easily alternatives to any digital tool.
  • G2crowd
    Directory of best business software and services based on user ratings and social data. Reviews for CRM, ERP, CAD, PDM, HR, and Marketing software.
  • Producthunt
    Stream and catalog of most interesting new tools, apps and tech books submitted and selected by users.

Thank you for reading.

I am Robin Good, an independent author / publisher with a terminal addiction: help others effectively communicate, learn and market their ideas by exploring new ethical venues, innovative strategies and uncharted territories outside the mainstream.

Discover more about curation right here:
https://medium.com/content-curation-official-guide


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Robin