Teaching vs Manipulation and Controlling Thought Patterns

Mar 27th

Where is the separation between teaching and manipulation? While leaving adequate room for profit and learning in a competitive marketplace how do you teach people how to learn without teaching them what they must learn, who they must learn it from, with what biases and from what perspective? As we keep records of the world and it is easier for us to match our exact interests, desires, and biases our standards change.

When we get what we want when we want it far more often many things are considered noise. What was once acceptable tutelage or a normal business practice becomes hypocritical censorship or information as a marketing mechanism with a hidden agenda.

But the large aggregated demand offered by the web (and search) means that even micro niches can be profitable. And the marketing feedback loops get faster while search engines and other information systems are offering up more data to marketers at a cost quickly approaching free.

Even as information systems get better at helping us solve problems quickly marketing gets more sophisticated. The analogy at the end of this post about networks destroying the corporate structure states how hard it may be to have a sense of organization of the chaos of human intentions.

An analogy might explain the concept intuitively: the army is like a corporation. the terrorists are like a network.

Especially since when a competing network gets beyond a certain level it can leverage its efficiencies to destroy competition. For example, Google pays AdSense spammers millions of dollars a month to spam up Yahoo! and MSN search results.

Search systems promote publishing business models founded on marketing through creating arbitrary controversies or mass automation while serving us ads from who can pay the most for our demand (which frequently is based on solutions that fix symptoms instead of going to the core problem - if you never fix the real probably you can create recurring subscription revenues).

A friend recently set up an SEM company. I set up the PPC account for his first client (largely because he wanted to do such a good job that the client would refer others). As it turns out we did such a good job that the client fired him. Too much efficiency was introduced into his business, and without greed business people are just not business people.

What you get a bunch of in search results is:

  • an abundance of fake recommendations based on payout levels:

  • biased content and content marketed largely through controversy:
    • most people passionate enough to create content at a loss probably have a decent amount of bias they want to express (that is why I got on the web)

    • biased information is easy to link at since it is easy to remark on (person x is right on or person y is full of crap)
    • my income went up when I got sued
    • in one search engine the company that sued me even started ranking for my name
    • even when people talk negatively about stuff they still link at it
    • citations due to search are self-reinforcing in nature
  • and whatever content can be created by a machine.

I am not saying that I know the answers to the problems, but I can sorta see some of the ones that exist. Searching for Dummies sorta states that the ease with which we can find things tends to make us lazier and less educated. Is that perhaps because many people lack ambition? Or is it because we settle for good enough more often so we can focus more time on other things we find more interesting?

I guess my real questions are: is there such a thing as pure information? And if yes, are there any viral self-sustaining business models that would promote it to flourish? Is the diversity of biases promoted by search enough? Or am I just biased in my thinking? ;)

I like how Tim Berners-Lee said computers and algorithms can be arranged to solve social problems. It would be a cool topic to learn.

So we could say we want the Web to reflect a vision of the world where everything is done democratically, where we have an informed electorate and accountable officials. To do that we get computers to talk with each other in such a way as to promote that ideal.

Published: March 27, 2006

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Comments

March 27, 2006 - 5:33pm

Wow, Aaron. Heady stuff for a Monday morning. Let me attempt to answer your questions with a couple of questions of my own.

Do you believe that history books are objective?

What about the Bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud?

Your answer to those two questions will reveal whether there has ever been "pure information", and whether humans are even capable of it, especially in the context of commerce.

My answer: Diversity of biases is all we've got. :)

March 27, 2006 - 5:41pm

Hi Brian
I agree with what you are saying and where you are coming from...but I am wondering if somehow the speed with which information travels, the digital archive of information, being searchable, easy access to the information patterns (like the alexa web service offers), and so many more people adding layers to information could somehow create an information system that is smarter than a popularity contest.

Surely I am not as smart as the people at Google, but it seems like there should be another layer that can account for information bias somehow. hmm.

March 27, 2006 - 10:52pm

I think the only way to do that (and don't ask for an algorithmic explanation :) ) is to somehow aggregate and summarize the diversity of biases, with weighting for other criteria besides popularity.

That's such a mind-boggling task that I cannot quite get my head around it. And what would the interface look like?

But you're on the right track. Until now, we didn't even have the luxury of easily comparing different opinions like we do now. I totally agree that the ball needs to be pushed forward with SERPs, and to especially allow for contrasting opinions that might be unpopular (this is, as you know, the reason why SEs are like high school) but sometimes I just step back and think, wow, ten years ago none of this was possible.

It'll be amazing to see what 2016 looks like.

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