Information distribution has changed dramatically over the last decade, but people really haven’t. Though there is more information and opinion available than ever before and though we may consume it differently, we actually select the information in ways similar to how we’ve always done it. Most people still read only sources that they ‘like’ and sources they ‘like’ most often offer information and opinions compatible with those of their own.
Social networks, apart from niche ones like Ning or Twine (more semantically rather than socially structured), aren’t built around political compatibility, but my guess is that a lot of the networks would have a high degree of political homogeneity. People tend to choose or subconsciously migrate towards groups, neighborhoods and people who share their political views. Thus, if one shares or reads information through something like Facebook, there is a good chance that what you’re looking at comes from a person with views similar to those of your own.
RSS readers are an obvious example: we subscribe only to selected ‘liked’ information providers and the cycle goes on. With Twitter things seem to have a potential of getting more open since it’s a space of everything from everywhere with no clear thematic structure, but ultimately the system has a good chance of resembling the RSS system to the users.
In the age of disaggregation, the money is in giving people what they want. Unfortunately, what we want — and don’t think you’re different — is to have our existing opinions confirmed. You and I and everyone else are going to be far more likely to click through from a headline that confirms what we already believe than from one which challenges us. “I don’t need to read that,” we’ll say, “it’s clearly just biased crap.” The computers will see this, and any sort of recommendation algorithm will quickly end up as a mirror to our preconceptions.
So, provided we actually would like to do it, how could we break past the opinion and information bubbles we’re all in? Some, like Jonathan think that the solution is maps so that ‘instead of trying to decide what someone “should” see, you just make clear to them what they could see.’ This could work since visualisations can be very impressive, but from my experience they’re more of a thing you look at once or twice with interest and then walk back to your safety net. I, for pure user convenience sake reasons, think you could have a system that searches for an alternative version of whatever you’re reading and lets you click a link with a headline on a sidebar to create a mirror of what you’re missing.
Would anyone actually want these kinds of services? Would it lead to a better understanding of things we might be fighting for and against on a regular basis in the political sphere? Opinions welcome!