Emerging Technology, Individuality, Personalization

The Semantic Web and Its Limitations on New Human Experiences

I was having a conversation with a co-worker about what was going to be my next blog post, and something she said inspired me to switch gears and take a slight detour.

Not that I'm an expert on the subject, but I find the semantic web, and its theorized possibilities, absolutely fascinating. Imagine a world where everything is meticulously tailored to you. Not just the advertising. But search results; music and films; and even new friends. THAT is what I think social is here to do. It's not just a breakthrough in communication. That's far too limiting, and honestly, I think a bit shortsighted.

We've been seeing it for years in targeted ads, Amazon recommendations, and Netflix suggestions. The internet has made enormous strides in personalizing its recommendations based on our connections and experiences. But that's exactly what scares my colleague about the semantic web. When is the internet no longer connecting us with the things it believes we will enjoy, but instead shielding us from wildly different experiences that we may in fact love?

My co-worker is a Groupon junkie, and prides herself on having no niche. The deals she buys vary far and wide, and if the semantic web were to try to tailor experiences to her, it would brilliantly fail.

For most, the semantic web isn't a problem. But for those who don't want to be put in a box — those who never want to do the same thing twice — the semantic web has an ugly side. For all the relevance it promises to bring, an argument can be made that it also threatens to bring an insular view of the world.

I pretty much exclusively listen to Hip-Hop and R&B. And if it weren't for a conversation between two co-workers I overheard years ago, I would have never downloaded Coldplay's "Viva La Vida". An album I love, and which led me to buy all of their previous works, as well as discover John Mayer, Jason Mraz, and Jack Johnson. Don't judge me.

There's a fine line between what's junk, and what could be a new, and interesting experience. Where is that line drawn? The more you submit yourself to the wonders of this new way of the web, the more custom-fit your experience becomes. But at what cost?