"Google can answer almost anything you ask it, but it can't tell you what you ought to be asking."

#Opinion

Tue, Jan 17th, 2012 20:00 by capnasty NEWS

The Internet is too vast to navigate without a map, says The Economist's Ian Leslie for More Intelligent Life, and Google is that map; however, unlike the cover of a newspaper or what plays on television, Google lacks serendipity: it can fill your screen with what you ask of it but filters out anything else that it thinks is irrelevant to you.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Centre for Civic Media at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a long-time evangelist for the internet, points out that it doesn't match the ability of the printed media to bring you information you didn't know you wanted to know. He calls the front page of a newspaper a "discovery engine": the lead story tells you something you're almost certain to be interested in -- the imminent collapse of the global economy, or Lady Gaga's latest choice of outfit -- and elsewhere on the page you learn that revolution has broken out in a country of whose existence you were barely aware. Editors with an eye for such things, what Zuckerman calls "curators", are being superseded by "friends" -- people like you, who probably already share your interests and world view -- delivered by Facebook. Twitter is better at leading us to the interests of people beyond our social circle, but our tendency to associate with others who think in similar ways -- what sociologists call our "value homophily" -- means most of us end up with a feed that feels like an extended dinner party.

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