Why it’s so hard to find that funny video you came across three hours ago | Your Technology | The country
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The average time that Internet users spent connected in 2021 was almost seven hours a day. In that part of the day that we dedicate to the network, a multitude of contents pass through our eyes. We read, watch videos and photos, go from a website to a social network, send memes and create stickers. All this ocean of content is within our reach in a seemingly simple way, and yet sometimes finding something specific becomes a nightmare. Where was that video with a kitten that we now want to send to a contact?
“Growth is so fast that technology is lagging behind the volume of information we generate,” says María Rodríguez-Rabadán, executive director of the Master’s Degree in Transmedia Communication and Master’s Degree in Communication and Data Visualization at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). ).
All those hours that we spend connected to the network, we not only consume, but also generate new content: every minute, according to data published in Statista, 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube and 695,000 are shared stories On Instagram. Searching for a particular content is quite a challenge and going to Google is no longer the only option: perhaps it is something you have seen on Twitter and you prefer to try it in your search engine, even if you have to remember the more or less exact words. On networks like Instagram or TikTok, with a search engine that only understands hashtags and usernames, the only useful thing would be to remember who shared the video or meme in question, but that doesn’t always happen.
“We have gone from saving files to stream”, explains Quelic Berga, professor of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications Studies at the UOC. In addition, even if we have stopped and marked a content to see it again later, its organization is not easy either. “You can give it a like and then see what you have liked, there are always tagging systems, but they are not very effective,” says Berga. “It’s quite a challenge to decide how to do this without falling into the absurd paradox of spending a lifetime labeling content when you don’t have the ability to organize and review it later,” adds the expert.
To infoxification (an excess of information) and to this impractical design for the organization and subsequent review of content, Berga adds a third factor that makes searches difficult: algorithms and their constant change. “If you search for three unpopular keywords day after day, you can see how the results change,” he explains. This happens even if you search for words about something old that in principle should give the same results (such as, for example, “George Orwell”, the expert proposes). “We are in an era of a lot of noise and variability and going back to benchmarks is complicated,” he says.
Algorithms also have their own logic and benefit some content over others. “For example, when you are exploring [en una app como Instagram], there is a priority vector for things that are recent. If you are looking for cats, it puts the cats that are currently there”, explains Berga. Unless the specific content you want to see again is very popular at the time, it will most likely be very difficult to see it again in the explore tab after a few hours.
A problem that is not new
There has also been a lot of talk about Google and the relevance of the results it offers in recent months. The problems are mainly two: the presence of advertising in the results and, above all, SEO, that is, that there are a series of actions that can be carried out to ensure that a web page appears among the first results. Thus, those first positions are usually full of websites that have been very well designed with the Google algorithm in mind, but with content that is actually not very relevant to the user. In addition, a study published in Social Informatics in 2019 added another reason: the layers of personalization that are added to the results. According to the article, this customization causes you to lose up to 20% of relevant information that does not appear in the results.
“When you used to search for ‘Madrid shoe store’, there were two options: the shoe store didn’t have a website or you found it. Now there are many more options because the Yellow Pages have uploaded information about all the shoe stores, on Google there are photos and videos uploaded by users of all the shoe stores, etc. Suddenly there is all the tension and algorithmic and capitalist pressure to decide who sees what first and who clicks what. Therefore, the search is no longer simple”, says Quelic Berga on the matter. “Two things happen in this information boom: the chaos is increasingly complex because there is much more noise and there are wills behind it that want you to see ‘Nike Madrid,’” he explains.
However, although it may seem to us that all this problem of searching and, above all, rediscovering specific content on the internet is something that did not happen before, this is not necessarily the case. “It is not a matter of making searching more difficult, but rather that there are more people who are aware that this problem exists”, explains Daniel Gayo, professor in the Area of Languages and Computer Systems at the University of Oviedo. For the expert, the search engines have improved a lot in general, although he concedes that it is possible that, despite this, the problem of rediscovering something that has already been seen before has increased. “There are two issues: the content that is generated is increasing and the platforms through which a piece of information can reach us [Twitter, Instagram, Facebook…] They are diverse,” he says. It is not always easy to remember if it was something “read in the press, seen on Twitter, on Pinterest or on YouTube”.
The problem of how to return to some content that has already been seen is not new. “Looking at the scientific literature, you can go back to the end of the 1990s,” says Gayo. However, if before only the minority of the population that used the internet on a regular basis was aware of it, now it is much more widespread. “We also have very high expectations when using these systems, especially since there are queries that seem to work so well, when things don’t work anymore, we get a little desperate,” he reflects.
Gaio references, for example, a study published in 2004 in which the methods used by a series of people to save or continue to have access to things found on the network were exposed. Actions such as sending an email to oneself with the link, marking the website as a favorite or even printing it, among other methods, were used. The study also refers to previous publications that have studied the subject and that make it clear that it is not a problem that has appeared with social networks or mobile internet penetration.
What is perhaps more typical of these times is the way in which we consume that content. In that “flow” to which Quelic Berga referred, in which instead of saving content we consult it, we can devise how to ensure that we see something in particular again, but we do not usually consume the internet with such intention. “As a general rule, they are light, intermittent, fast readings, videos that we watch, stop, share or that are even simultaneous with other tasks,” reflects Rodríguez-Rabadán. For the expert, “the way in which users consume content on the Internet is not the most suitable for promoting retention and remembering the route we follow to find said link.”
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