Even the things that you think are pointing you to new material may be further mainstreaming you.
Online merchants such as Amazon, iTunes and Netflix may stock more items than your local book, CD, or video store, but they are no friend to “niche culture”. Internet sharing mechanisms such as YouTube and Google PageRank, which distil [sic] the clicks of millions of people into recommendations, may also be promoting an online monoculture. Even word of mouth recommendations such as blogging links may exert a homogenizing pressure and lead to an online culture that is less democratic and less equitable, than offline culture1.
While each customer on average experiences more unique products in Internet World, the recommender system generates a correlation among the customers2. To use a geographical analogy, in Internet World the customers see further, but they are all looking out from the same tall hilltop. In Offline World individual customers are standing on different, lower, hilltops. They may not see as far individually, but more of the ground is visible to someone. In Internet World, a lot of the ground cannot be seen by anyone because they are all standing on the same big hilltop.
A “niche”, remember, is a protected and hidden recess or cranny, not just another row in a big database. Ecological niches need protection from the surrounding harsh environment if they are to thrive. Simply putting lots of music into a single online iTunes store is no recipe for a broad, niche-friendly culture.
So does this mean it’s harder than ever to stay interesting, especially if you spend a lot of time on the Internet? Seems like it.
I guess as the depth and breadth of communication3 grows between larger and larger sets of people this effect is more likely to occur.
1 Note from me- this seems to disregard the impact of online culture on offline culture. I’d say there’s a lot of influence there and that’s only going to increase.
2 Note from me- I see this recommender correlation as parallel to the personal correlations people make as they choose RSS feeds, media inputs etc. – that self-created echo chamber. You feel like you’re an outlier but in reality you’re becoming more and more mainstream in that subset. This could explain a lot of things about the edtech blog world.
3 I’m counting things like recommendation engines and other algorithms as communication between people.