Over time, the record of these actions, both individually and across people, establish a unique pattern of behavior that is known as an Algorithm. In the context of Media Futures, an algorithm is a computing engine designed to process behavioral data and convert it into content that engages ones Attention.
You can imagine an Algorithm like a strange Rube Goldberg machine with a complex set of routers, pulleys and chutes that turn a certain input into an equally certain output.
Recall our reinterpretation of Hamlet:
We encourage others to participate so that we may consume them
and we make ourselves interesting for the blogosphere. Your Internet CEO and your Joe Blogger are just different algorithms- two APIs, but to one network.
Each decision that I make as to what to pay Attention to, and the physical gesture that I use to effect this choice (search, click, form, sign in, etc) establishes a little personal algorithm that gets joined with all of my other personal algorithms. Together, this bundle of personal information algorithms establishes and maintains my persistent, stable electronic identity. This is a deeper, more authentic version of me than simply a numeric ID that establishes my offline physical presence. The me that makes me me online is one that I actively create and reinforce every moment based on a series of interlocking gears (which I control based on data I produce).
And now if you pull up from the tree of me as an individual to the forest of all of us in society, then you see a much broader fabric. The fabric represents Social Media, each of its infinite threads representing one individual's momentary micro algorithmic gesture.
One would assume that each of these mini decisions was distributed to the edges, and that the control over it was determined by its owner. But this would be to ignore the gravity of the Attention economy, which is Influence. On the Internet, Influence is measured by the amount of Attention one gets relative to the amount of information one gives The most influential online individual is able to syndicate a limited but steady stream of what makes me me-ness through his personal API and nevertheless generate a high pagerank that lands him above the Google fold.
The area that I am most interested in exploring in this current chapter on Algorithm is the rub between what you are searching for and where you emerge from other people's searches. This is located between (1) the record of your Attention (for example as expressed recently by AOL through their disclosure of "anonymous" search histories) and (2) the position you occupy within the pagerank universe based on what keywords produce results that point to you, above the fold.
Coming next, a brief history of Algorithm