URLs of wisdom (end of June – 5th July)

URLs of wisdom is a weekly round-up of interesting links about topics at the intersection of people, science and technology. This is a bumper edition including links from the end of June when I was travelling.


Thinking about algorithms and user behaviour:

  • Why the web isn’t as meritocratic as you think – Danah Boyd on influence and social media: “…algorithms tend to reinforce existing biases. This dynamic also turns everyone into a beggar. They need to generate likes or comments to have their content spread. So they beg for attention. Up pop systems like “hashtags for likes” where people promise to like each other’s posts if they put the right hashtag there. Whatever is measured is gamed.”
  • Corrupt Personalization – when the dangers of algorithmic recommendations go further than creating filter bubbles
  • “Google is almost always willing to trade user control for small increases in efficiency.”“If Android is to be the core of your own personal swarm of screens and robots, it means that all of the data Google knows about you will come to the interactions you have with the stuff around you. The profile you build up at your computer and on your tablet will now apply to your television watching and your commuting, seamlessly (as Google likes to say). Sitting underneath all the interactions you have across these devices, Google’s algorithms will be churning. The way Google thinks—its habits of data collection, analysis, and optimization—will become part of these experiences that have previously remained outside the company’s reach.”

Other news

  • My friends don’t “like” me – Do you pay attention to who is liking your social media posts? Or is becoming all about the numbers? “So are we all becoming narcissists as we get increasingly addicted to that digitally induced dopamine fix? Are we liking others’ photos just to get more of our own? Do we post just for attention or is there a deeper more genuine reason? Is there anything really wrong with “likes” if they truly do make us feel good?”


  • Danah Boyd on what the Facebook experiment teaches us“I’d like to see any company that manipulates user data create an ethics board. Not an IRB that approves research studies, but an ethics board that has visibility into all proprietary algorithms that could affect users. For public companies, this could be done through the ethics committee of the Board of Directors. But rather than simply consisting of board members, I think that it should consist of scholars and users.”
  • Charlie Brooker’s more tongue-in-cheek take on the Facebook story: “They’re all at it. Google tracks your every move, knows where you live, and is probably about to send a driverless van round to take you to work in its silicon mine. Amazon plans to launch drones that’ll fly over your garden dropping packages containing algorithmically-selected items you haven’t even ordered yet onto the heads of your children.’
  • And Cesar Hidalgo of MIT’s MediaLab on Facebook “To violate privacy, content needs to be revealed to an unintended audience. Sorting and prioritizing the content presented to a user’s intended audience (her existing Facebook friends) cannot reveal content to that user’s unintended audience.”
  • And – something unrelated to Facebook – yet another failure to correctly anonymise data – this time with NYC taxi trips.

Web/Social media developments

  • Facebook plans to take on Twitter’s stream Some of the problem to be tackled: “Twitter’s unfiltered, real-time feed means that when I post something urgent about that last play, last scene or latest breaking news, I know it gets seen immediately while it’s still relevant. Facebook’s relevancy-filtered feed shows me the best content from the past day or so, but not the most recent. If I posted the same content there, it might make little sense when it’s seen a few hours later. “

Digital Marketing

  • The death of email newsletters has been greatly exaggerated. “Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos.” 

Academia online

  • Should academics be using social media? Deborah Lupton discusses some of the findings from her recent report of Academics’ use of social media: “Twitter was especially valued as a medium for scholarly communication, as it was viewed as fast and responsive. It was common for the respondents to comment that their social media networks had expanded in unpredictable directions and serendipitous ways.”


Just for fun

Two for the price of one this installment…

QUIZ: can you predict what makes a good tweet?

And a reminder: Don’t read the comments!



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