Are you being caught in Google’s Filter Bubble?

Can’t see the video?  Click here: Mark Schaefer interviews Helen Brown

This video will make you think!  On my recent trip to Boston I got to catch up with Helen Brown, who is not only my friend and customer, but also a brilliant thinker and strategist when it comes to search.


Her livelihood depends on it!  Her firm helps nonprofits thrive through expert research, training and consulting on donor strategies. Search engines are the life blood of her business.

So imagine my surprise when she described to me a phenomenon that is occurring for all of us. As Google tailors each of our searches based on our search history, it is inexorably limiting the possibilities and quality of our searches. In this short video interview, Helen describes a strategy to “take your search back” as well as a new Google tool called Verbatim that is designed to re-open search possibilities for all of us.

Did you learn something from this video? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

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  • Anonymous

    I haven’t heard yet of Google’s new tool Verbatim. Sounds promising and I am going to check it out right now.


  • Louise Winters

    Hi, I hadn’t thought about the other side of personalised searching – that limiting the risk of irrelevant search results also limits the potential rewards.  As search and internet savvy users we should definitely make use of both options – that is, more personally targeted and less personally targeted search results – depending on what is most appropriate for the situation.  


  • I’ve been looking into it too. It’s not easy to find! There are instructions in the link above.

  • Seems so obvious doesn’t it? But I learned something from the interview!

  • Thank you Helen, and Mark for sharing this new approach, and opportunity for strategic efficiency? ~Rae

  • Nakia LaCour

    I had not thought about the drawbacks of personalization either.  I’ll be looking up Eli Pariser.  Thanks for this post and the link to Verbatim!

  • I heard about this personalization aspect a while back. One of the scariest things about it, I think, is that it tends to narrow our news searches (and similar) to the same type of sites. Which means that you are going to tend to see news and perspectives that reinforce your thinking rather than challenge it, contributing to the polarization of our political views.

  • Thanks so much for inviting me to share with your wonderful community, Mark!

    Eli Pariser’s fascinating TED Talk is here:

  • Rmlepage7

    Great information and I will check out Verbatim now.

  • My thoughts exactly. Unexpected dangers in the name of efficiency.

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  • Very very interesting Mark. I never thought of how personalization in essence narrows search and we may NOT want that. I’m a professional searcher myself as I believe anything I want is on the web so I can see how this may corner me. Thanks for sharing info on Verbatim!

  • Funny thing too is that when you’re traveling internationally they know your IP and give you information based on the country you’re in. Uhhhh I was trying to read US news thank you!

  • It makes a big difference to SEO as well, because individuals are going to get tailored information, no matter how hard the company may have worked to get to the front page of Google. They track your usage whether or not you are logged in, too. When I checked out Verbatim, it looked like it was just going to do a search similar to when you “put quotes around a keyword” versus giving you a fresh result, is this true?

  • Superb insight. I am really enjoying your insightful comments on {grow} Samantha!

    I’m not a search expert but maybe @askhelenbrown will answer your question.

  • Hi Samantha,

    According to the Google search blog, they say that Verbatim will not correct spelling, use search personalization including sites you’ve visited before, truncate words or find synonyms (if you type in “burn” Google won’t include results with “burns,” “burning,” “river,” “stream” etc.) and more.  They say it’s designed to trust that the searcher knows what they’re doing.  More here: 

    So to answer your question, yes, it is like putting quotes around the word but it should also give you as wide a search field as possible.

    My team and I are still playing with it, but so far we really like it.  Hope that helps!

  • Anonymous

    Eli Pariser’s TED talk is AMAZING as well (and so is his book 😉 )

    I miss posting here more often! 😀 

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