If the internet is getting smarter, it is only because we are being carefully watched. The video Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us brilliantly demonstrates what I mean. It shows an internet that has become more valuable by connecting us through observed preferences.
Those preferences are observed through our past behavior — always the best predictor of future action. The video explains: “100 billion times per day, humans are clicking on a web page … teaching the Machine what we think is important.”
I recommend you follow this video, by Michael Wesch of Kansas State University, through to its completion. The payoff is fascinating and sobering.
Some of this behavior is passive.
Merely clicking on a web page, for example, is something that even my mother does. She needs no special training or instruction. Yet systems such as the recently unveiled Google Personalized Search are improving her browsing experience by customizing content based on her past searches — and even her web browsing history.
Don’t think this has gone unnoticed by those in the search engine optimization business. Google Personalized Search is a major shift in the optimization game, a phenomenon that’s sending us all back to our playbooks.
Other behavior is more active.
Specifically I’m talking about the type of tagging that takes place in online social networks. According to a recent Pew research study, “28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts.” On any given day, this report says that 7% of internet users have tagged or categorized online content. To put that in perspective, that’s seven times the number of people who on that day have listened to a podcast.
So who is doing all of this tagging? Not surprisingly, they’re more likely to be under 40, with higher than average incomes and education levels.
Pew has no way to report on whether this tagging behavior is growing in popularity. This was the organization’s first ever research on tagging. But Hitwise reports that sites that enable tagging, such as Del.icio.us and Flickr, are gaining in popularity.
In just three months, according to Hitwise, Flickr grew in popularity by 140%. By that I mean that visits to this photo sharing site accounted for .029% of visits a week in January, up from less than .012% three months earlier.
In the same time span, Del.ic.ious traffic grew by over 600%. Visits to that online recommendation site increased to .0036%, up from .0005% in October, 2006. (Thanks for your help on these stats, Wendy Davis of MediaPost.)
Here’s a Wired rundown of some of the best tagging and social bookmarking sites. Tag, you’re it!