In the opening keynote this morning, Nat talked about tools that would give Amazon-like functionality to blogs and other internet content. So it will look at the types of feeds you subscribe to and suggest "If you liked these things, you might like these."
These are really nice features and I'll admit that I like these suggestions as they are currently available in Amazon and on my Tivo. However, I see a real problem here. People are increasingly molding the world around them to fit their existing world view.
There was a lot of talk about this sort of trend during the last presidential election. The media market divided up into segments representing various extremes in the political spectrum. Talk radio has been in this mode for a while and the television networks started to catch up.
What was the effect of this? According to many analysts, this resulted in people tuning into hear people talk to them, or scream at them, with exactly the same viewpoints, prejudices, and understandings as them. So heavy Bush supporters got more intrenched with the half-truths and vague generalizations on the right, and the Kerry supporters did the same on the left.
Enter the internet. One promise of the internet is that with the wide open availability of information on the internet people will have a better opportunity to read information from all sides. Fox, CNN, and MSN can't control my browser, so I can go read information from all sides. It seems like a great idea.
But what happened? Each side, the left and the right, did everything they could to take advantage of the internet to do just the opposite. They put websites out there to spew the same extreme views that were being piped through other media sources. They scrambled to get "their side" on mailing lists so they could send out regular emails to whip up the froth a bit more.
So instead of exposing people to the views of the other side, or just exposing them to the truth, which shouldn't be owned by any side, the tunnel-vision was extended to yet another forum. There was now one more source to re-inforce what people already "knew" about their world view. What they expected about the world was confirmed yet again. They had one less reason to listen to someone with different ideas.
As Open Source developers, we shouldn't be smug. We do the same thing. Given a little time with a browser, what do I check? Perlmonks, perl.com, use.perl.org, and maybe slashdot. Hardly looking at other people's viewpoints.
Add these tools to pull in yet more data based on "things you already like." Amazon, TiVo, and now tools to pull together news feeds and blogs that are just like "things you already like" are effectively helping us narrow our world view just a little more.
Before all this technology, we still had the same effect, but for different reasons. The reality of long distances and slow communication created extreme regionalism. You only got information on a regular basis from the people in your town. You generally agreed with the ideas you heard in the local pub, because those were the people you talked to everyday.
These new tools are re-creating the same scenario. These limited world views are creating a virtual regionalism with a local electronic pub based on "other things I like." So rather than helping to share new information and ideas, these tools are hamstringing the idea-sharing promise of the internet. It will take a truly open-minded and ambitious person to seek out new ideas.