Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Search engines have no sense of humour

A colleague drew to my attention some recent plans to try and take on offensive and "fake" content... from the Search Engine Land article:

“We’re explicitly avoiding the term ‘fake news,’ because we think it is too vague,” said Paul Haahr, one of Google’s senior engineers who is involved with search quality. “Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target.”

Seems like a reasonable objective, although as the SEL article and another today in TechDirt notes the current drive is focussed on "upsetting-offensive" material. There are certainly categories of material, much already illegal, that would receive universal agreement on being offensive, but it is not long before we move into more difficult and subjective territory, for example is the Viz comic offensive? Well yes; and designed that way as a parody of British comics, politics, media, life, etc.

Trying to solve the "offensive" problem by making some universal binary categorization is not achievable. Too much of life is subjective, we need much richer categorizations of content, and if you wanted to start with one, try age appropriate search - start with readability using something simple like SMOG and implement the search tag "reader:reading_age" to allow the user (browser) to configure the search.

In general then indexing and rich tagging of content with the user able to configure their search tags seems like a means to achieve some actual match between what users want from search and the results they get. Of course here speaks someone who uses duckduckgo because I do not want what I searched for last time to effect what I search for next without my knowledge...

This brings me full circle to the SEL article's comment on "fake results" and parody.  Try a google search for "who invented stairs"... here's one I did earlier (in case they fix it!):

... a myth since 2007 propagated by a parody website, now archived here. How do I know it is parody, well not least I have used stairs older than 1948, but a tell tale sign is the statement "In case you hadn't guessed, this is a big, fat parody."



So the next search tag to add is "parody:on|off"; well until the search engines get a sense of humour.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Children and the Internet inquiry



Together with colleagues from Horizon we submitted evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications inquiry into Children and the internet. The evidence was from the ESRC funded CaSMa project looking into citizen-centric approaches to social media research. Working with 5Rights, we investigated young people's attitudes to various topics related to internet use, including:

o Personal data tracking
o Removal of embarrassing or inconvenient content
o Unhealthy dependence upon digital communication technologies
o Effect of online networks on young people’s self-esteem, feelings of exclusion, anxiety
o Digital literacy

Using Youth Juries, a specific form of vignette methodology, we elicited interesting insights into how young people are growing up with technology, and putting the lie to the cliche "young people don't care about privacy anymore" - they most certainly do... a final report on this project coming soon, so watch the twittersphere @horizonder.

Then last week it was time to don the grey suit again and head to the Palace of Westminster to offer verbal evidence (video, transcript). It's a long (and of course thoroughly riveting) watch/read, but in summary:

Baroness Kidron: ".... I would really like to hear from you what industry could do that is a little bit more radical and a little bit more user-friendly when we are talking not simply about protection but about the normative use of “children being children” in this digital sphere."

Professor Derek McAuley: "Stop trying to monetise every piece of data."

It'll be radical shake up of the Digital Economy when that comes to pass.