Sucking Exhaust In The Bubble

Over on WUWT there have been several stories about how, a year or so back, WUWT suddenly started having lower ‘hits’ in Google in searches.

Most of the discussion centered around things like the manual deweighting of some sites by Google staff, and changes to the algorithm that would filter for “relevance”. Here is just one example article:

I was wandering around trying to solve one problem (a security question had popped up. My router was behaving oddly and I was doing a phish back to see if someone was trying to take the link…) and looking up the IP number of some known sites (see if DNS was captured). When I ran into something else. The idea of a search engine “bubbling” you.
(A reboot of the router and all is fine, btw.)

It seems that part of the algorithm change was simply to “give you more of what you already do”. While I’m sure that’s useful for someone fixated on, say, Madonna, and uninterested in anything new; it is truly horrid for someone like me who is searching for the new, the different and novel, and something to learn about the world. A person where the “topic of the day” can bounce from slime mold to molding liquid stone to pink slime…

So lots of search engines now “Bubble You”. Search today for “Chinese Tea” and you will find very little about Indian Tea, Tea in England, or coffee houses in the USA that serve tea in future searches. YOU just put up some walls on your bubble of potential interests.

There’s a nice TED Talk on it here:

OK, this answered some things for me. For one, I’ve had to resort to ever longer lists of ‘search words’ to get new stuff. I now have to specifically start listing things like “Indian Tea”, “Tea in San Francisco”, etc. to break out of the bubble.

But some of the keys used are things like your location and kind of computer used. Now that’s got to be interesting in a household like mine where I have 4 computers I often use and the family has 3 more, mixed between Macs, PCs, and several flavors of Linux. Also browser type may be used as a search filter item. I use THREE browsers commonly on just ONE of my machines. (Which now partly explains why sometimes shifting between them has given me more interesting things…) As my router does NAT, we all will end up being tracked as the same IP address and same location. (Which probably explains some of the advertizing I’ve gotten for things that appeal to college kids ;-)

So part of the “issue” for WUWT will have been that more of the True Believers in AGW will have been stuffed into a bubble that excludes WUWT. Worse, Google looks at “like” clicks. So if one kind of person clicks “like” a lot on Hansen, WUWT will not be offered to other folks of a similar bubble type. It becomes MUCH harder to be of one socioeconomic cast and discover things outside that realm.
Once an 18 year old high school student, always in high school…

Now think about this for a minute. It is, in essence, ENFORCED “consensus”. Once you have been pegged, you will only be offered things in keeping with that peg. Your biases become computer enforced “sucking your own exhaust”.
Incredibly dumb.

On a larger level, to the extent broad “popularity” rankings are applied, ALL minority tastes, opinions, and interests will dwindle in the face of the Style Bubble Of Conformity.

One counter trend, though. After the change, Google became much less ‘interesting’ to me. I’m a person who is prone to novelty seeking. It became more “20 flavors of vanilla”. As a result, I ran off to try other search engines. I’ve now found that swapping between them is a benefit all by itself, but also have a favorite. One that doesn’t “Bubble Me”.

I didn’t know that term for it until today. I just knew it was more interesting.

Now, one other minor note on WUWT: This also explains why so many different folks had different experiences ‘testing’ Google for bias. If, for example, I had been doing research on Warmer Sites, I’d be pigeon holed as a “Warmer” and get less WUWT. OTOH, were I prone to using Google to find WUWT articles with things like “WUWT Hansen”, I’d be pegged more “skeptic”. In both cases folks begin to get skewed results.

So, what can you do about it?

First off, I don’t use any of the “Social Networking” anythings. Since the data they gather can enter into the Pigeonhole Process, that is denied to them. ( I have never used them anyway simply because of the incredible security risk they pose.)

Now I also know to swap browsers more “regularly”. In particular, I’ll likely reserve one for “skeptical” searches and another for “Warmer” searches. Similarly I’ll likely set one whole computer aside as “Warmer Only” and search things likely to be in that same socioeconomic “bubble” all on that machine. Basically, I’ll be building up some Plastic Personas that are biased toward different search results. Doing some searches from Whole Foods and others from the Hilton Free Wi-Fi will also be fruitful… Especially if done from a pristine boot off a BBC Bootable Business Card that has zero history on it.

But what if you are not interested in the more extreme fixes?

Back To The Beginning

What started this was a search on the IP address of my preferred search engine: where an ‘nslookup’ had returned information saying it was in Japan (who knew?)…

Checking their ‘about’ pages for confirming information, I hit their page about not “Bubbling Me”… and the rest, as they say, is history. Simply by using that web search engine, I can be Un-Bubbled. That it doesn’t track my IP or tattle on me is a nice feature too.

Their very readable graphic based presentation on Bubbling is well worth a look.

So there you have it. In order to check for bias in the results from Google or Yahoo, one needs to change all sorts of personal data and try from many geographies. Or just swap to DuckDuckGo and not worry about it ;-)

A corollary to this will be that the technically naive (like those who largely just do a kind of follow-the-leader in AGW and Green organizations) will end up with an ever stronger Bubble and ever more self confirmation bias (as that is all that shows up in web searches). So is it any wonder they all think alike and don’t see anything outside the consensus?

One can only hope that the process can also lead to a kind of Cascade Failure. That getting one or two articles which are tagged and “hit” as “Warmer Centric” but that present the skeptic wisdom, will start to cause some “viral clicking” that then cascades into more ‘top of list’ rank on “Warmer” searches for the whole package of related skeptical wisdom. Then, as the light dawns, more follow on clicks could shift the mountain… One can hope…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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23 Responses to Sucking Exhaust In The Bubble

  1. Chuckles says:

    E.M., Yup, it’s a right pain, and some of it goes a LOT deeper than you’ve alluded to above. The supposedly ‘targeted’ advertising that follows one around is a pain, but the thought police type search is deadly.
    I find the ‘Track Me Not’ addon/plugin very useful when using Firefox. it constantly fires off random searches, masking anything you may be doing in a cloud of noise, and seems to be very successful at it’s role in foiling the ungodly.

  2. Tom Bakewell says:

    Ah, good sir. How you enrichen my days and feed my mnd such wonderfully written infobits. Thank you very much

    Tom Bakewell

  3. adolfogiurfa says:

    One question dear E.M.: So a periodical reboot of the router is advisable, is it so?

  4. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: You are the MATRIX programmer!, you have just found why “settled scientists” keep on thinking the same, rejecting innovations or new paradigms…it´s because they are “bubbled in”; It´s a kind of pavlovian reflex : their brains are rewarded by self conceit and by social grooming of their peers…..and the famous “elite”, well, these are brainwashed, in a traditional fashion by their mothers (it is a custom among them that their mothers since early childhood take care of their education. Among us that´s the role of the father).
    Both have small sized software with a lot of loops in them. :-)

  5. adolfogiurfa says:

    Talking about “bubbles”: The Fifth Sun giving birth to the Sixth Sun:

  6. Gary Turner says:

    Tnx, just installed track-me-not. I had wondered about searches becoming narrower than desired.



  7. omanuel says:

    Thanks for this information, E.M. Smith.

    We live in strange times. 1. Ordinary citizens are increasingly aware that information and people have been controlled by world leaders for decades, . . . almost 67 years from my analysis of climate and energy misinformation; 2. Incumbent politicians encounter seething anger at the polls; 3. Many young addicts go crazy on “synthetic bath salts,” available “under the counter,” and end up in jails or hospitals. “Synthetic bath salts” are not bath salts but extremely high-purity forms of “popular illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and Ecstasy” that are mysteriously sweeping the country.





  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @Chuckles & Gary Turner: OK, so I get to look into ‘track me not”…

    or just use duckduckgo and not worry ;-)


    Bath Salts?! One can only hope that real bath salts stay available…

    @Tom Bakewell:

    You are most welcome!


    It depends on the router, the nature of any attacks, and the service provider.

    In a professional setting with a good Cisco Router of commercial quality and a leased line, it never needs a reboot.

    On a typical telco provided barely supported home DSL line; it may be highly useful.

    IFF under attack ‘by IP’ a reboot can dump the attacker via a new DHCP IP address. (One tech friend leaves his DSL down when not in use just so his IP mutates and makes some tracking and hacking more difficult).

    Crummy no-name routers with lousy code may need reboots, especially if they have memory leaks and slowly run out of free memory (or have tables that never purge…).

    In short, YMMV.

    For me, I’ve got a noisy line from the Telco. Some days it’s just kind of crappy. At one time I had a bad port on their DSL router (they have a large multiport one on their end). A LONG reboot (shutdown for about 20 minutes so someone else could grab the bad port ;-) and all was well for a few months. Now it is more a ‘wind blows, wires move, get noise notices from my router’ problem. Eventually its error tracking and speed / frequency dancing gets messed up enough that just a shutdown / reboot and it simplifies all the state tables. Then it behaves well. Until the next windy day ;-)

    On my someday ‘to do’ list is call the telco and have them tighten the nuts on the wire up the pole…

    Basically, if nothing is a problem, leave it alone. If you have problems, a reboot can sometimes fix them, at least for a while. Some DSL systems are set up to optimize speed match over a one week ‘training window’. If you reboot that too fast / often (especially when first installed) it can decide you have a REALLY bad line ;-) then you get slow service… So when first installed, at least, let it train for a week…

  9. R. de Haan says:

    adolfogiurfa says:
    10 May 2012 at 11:42 pm
    @E.M.: You are the MATRIX programmer!, you have just found why “settled scientists” keep on thinking the same, rejecting innovations or new paradigms…it´s because they are “bubbled.

    No, the main reason is because UN IPCC together with the World Meteorological Organization and National Institutes from Met Office to NOAA, Universities and the political establishement, the Press and all kind of talkgroups are bubbled in. They are invited for UN IPCC presentation and attend to courses and seminars not accessible for us, just like their meetings and their conferences. Google only makes it a little bit worse.

  10. R. de Haan says:

    In short they have been brainwashed

  11. adolfogiurfa says: Haan: BTW The World Health Organization already has a Global Governance (And global “Governor” treaty signed, that is why the AH1N1 vaccination was enforced all over the world, though it was found that it contained no AH1N1 attenuated virus in it but the old year 2000 avian flu virus; big business for Baxter Labs, the manufacturer. The “WHO” receives donations from international pharmaceutical corporations….
    Where it is impossible for the UN to meddle in, then the elite works through NGO´s. As an example, right now there is a conspiracy against Peru´s mining activities, in special against gold mines, funded by south african mines, just because there they have to dig deep in the ground while here all mines are open pit mines, so being their cost too high, they have contracted the “services” of environmental NGO´s to do the dirty work. If somebody tries to stop them is being accused of an attack against “human rights”, so any government is checkmated. Not even Russia´s V.Putin could do anything against these untouchable NGO´s.
    So it´s a situation where they “fu*, fu* , you until you lose patience like those Pharaons of old and send them to have a “pick nick” in the desert…

  12. JRadig says:

    The search is refreshingly different. A search for “global warming” shows WattsUpWithThat as the 41st entry. Compare that to about 320 on a Google search when Anthony Watts first ran his article on the topic last year.

    Changes made since then to his web site headings, and perhaps the assistance of his followers, have made a difference even at Google. I checked again a few months after Anthony’s original post, and WattsUpWithThat had moved up about 60 places. Checked again just a few minutes ago and it is now up to 95 on my Google search. — Or maybe that’s just Google bubbling me. : )

  13. omanuel says:

    @E.M. Smith

    “Synthetic Bath Salts” are a serious problem that is destroying the lives of many members of the younger generation, especially military veterans and others in that age group

    I know one who was jailed after going crazy on synthetic bath salts and seriously beating his girlfriend. Another is in a VA hospital after going crazy on synthetic bath salts, wrecking his vehicle, and getting thrown out of his apartment.

    I was present when the VA nurse collected information from this veteran and learned for the first time that these are not ordinary street drugs, but high purity synthetic “bath salts” that appeared mysteriously across most of the UNited States, east of the West coast states.

    Who is producing high purity synthetic “bath salts” and making it available?

    Why is it being done now when so many are unemployed and hopeless?

  14. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Omanuel: That´s for washing the whole body, brain included. LOL!

  15. Verity Jones says:

    Wow. With all the targeted advertising I’d figured this sort of thing was going on, but not the extent of it, and yes I have found increasing frustration with searches. Thank you!

    @E.M.: You are the MATRIX programmer!,
    I’d figured that out a long time ago: ;-)

  16. adolfogiurfa says:

    @Verity Jones: About “Agent Smith” his attention to detail is astounding.

  17. Mark Miller says:

    @Verity Jones:

    Loved the article. It seems so true! :)

  18. Verity Jones says:

    @Mark Miller
    Thank you! Written way back when E.M. was having a go at GIStemp/GHCN.V2 first time around, I was new to blogging and had more contact with Tony Brown and Lucy Skywalker (Oracle) than we all have time for these days.

  19. princessartemis says:

    Interesting stuff. I’ve been using by Ixquick for awhile, as well as a few Firefox add-ons that block ads and sites from loading unexpected items…all together, they tend to make some of the Internet unusable, but with so much blocked (such as Google Analytics on sites I use to refill medication *after* I’ve logged in) I feel a bit better about where and when they get my data. It’s too late to take back everything done on the Internet, the least I can do is be careful about what more I give out.

    Didn’t know the search engines were doing such a good job of making bubbles, but it does stand to reason.

  20. E.M.Smith says:

    Looks like this drug and similar in the family is the main issue. I’m sure there are others. Also looks like the DEA is busy making rules to ban them (this one already is). New drug and modality, meet new laws…


    You’re welcome!


    Having been a computer ‘security guy’ for many years, it caused me to miss out on some great investments. Why? Because I would look at things like Facebook and think “That’s crazy risky and just going to get people in trouble. Nobody in their right mind would do that!” Only to see them skyrocket as “everybody did that”.

    At least now we have the “Firing of he week” in the news where folks are having things they tweeted or put on Facebook being used to fire them, divorce them, arrest them, etc. etc.

    I can at least point at that now and say: “See! I told you it was risky!”

    Don’t even get me started on the millions of credit card numbers stolen on line each year…

    FWIW, a significant part of my interest in the RaspberryPi board is the ability to make a ‘system du jour’ that gets created anew with each boot up. Just to thwart a lot of the tracking stuff.

    Yes, I can do that now with a Linux CD. But it takes a fairly big computer to do it, and the device driver compatibility issues can be a pain on some laptops (like this one…). Then there is the risk that “playing with” several Linux distributions might result in a disk corruption accident (like whacked the disk on the Evo Desktop I was using for Open Office – and now need to recover…)

    So having a $25 item that can have a bunch of system images on different SD cards (cloned as needed) and fits in a paperback book size box, powered by USB power… Heck, it would be worth it to have a couple just for the “disposable system security” it gives for many uses. Random browsing for one. Then boot again for things like bill paying. No “hold overs” or “visitors” from the web sites to interact with the financial activities…

    At any rate, yes, it is sad that we’ve reached this state. Hopefully more folks will come out with more “user centric” solutions to bypass the “user hostile” companies and products.

  21. Chuckles says:

    All ties back to you recent post on GDP, consumption and national wealth E.M.? A lot of us ‘techie’ types feel the way you do, for all the reasons you list, and more. Could I suggest that switching DNS/name servers away from Verizon, IANA and co to the cesidian or similar root servers .is also a good idea?
    Recent shenanigans with govt. agencies suggest that the concept of ‘disappearing’ awkward sites and services, and co-opting others is getting a little too attractive to the powers that be.
    On the Rasberry Pi side, don’t forget that it’s a class of solutions rather than a single product. See –

    The Pi has a serious price advantage and I’d also love to be able to buy one, but you should remember that it is being developed and marketed by a charity. Last I heard, the order backlog was about 400 000.
    As I understand it, their target market is the low income denizens of the 3rd world. Who all have HDMI TVs and monitors lying around it seems. Go figure. Still, perhaps they will one day emerge from the vapourware cloud, and we’ll be able to play. :)

  22. E.M.Smith says:


    It isn’t quite vaporware. They are shipping. Just limited volumes. (to be expected given their ‘bootstrap’ economics.)

    I’m in no hurry. I’ll hit the link, though…

    Yes, DNS games. Sigh. Somewhere I have a long list of DNS servers. Probably time to freshen it with some new names. I’ve also got my caching DNS server in the garage… Maybe picking my favorite sites and making hard entries for them “just in case” ;-)

    Wonder if there’s somewhere with a persistent DNS server not being screwed around with by governments?….

    FWIW I usually don’t point my DNS at my telco. Just an old habit.

    looks interesting. I’ve also used another site that had a nice speed checker (but the URL does not come to mine right now… heck, it might have BEEN opendns…)

    I generally also keep a paper “cheat sheet” of a dozen DNS server IPs to hand. More than once it has helped get me out of a DNS failure hole.

    One of the things I’d like to use a RaspberryPi for is a DNS server that sits in a cigar box… or smaller. Rather than a full sized old White Box PC. Don’t need monitor and keyboard plugged in unless doing maintenance. Just network and power cables. Config it, write the SD card, and be done. So many projects, so little time…

  23. Mark Miller says:


    Having been a computer ‘security guy’ for many years, it caused me to miss out on some great investments. Why? Because I would look at things like Facebook and think “That’s crazy risky and just going to get people in trouble. Nobody in their right mind would do that!” Only to see them skyrocket as “everybody did that”.

    I have been noticing that a little. A few years ago a friend of mine invested in Apple just because it was going crazy. He’s a techie and doesn’t like them, but he noticed that they have this unique ability to make a lot of people want their stuff, even though to him it’s old technology wrapped up in nice packaging. He said they kept marketing technology as “new” that he had been using for a few years, though my guess is what he was doing was enabled by software he had downloaded. It wasn’t part of the system when he bought it. That’s probably the difference.

    I invested in Apple for a time, just before the iPad came out. I could see a convergence of print media going under, internet media emerging, Apple capturing the market as a delivery channel, and the iPad being an ideal platform for it. It’s not what I’d desire for myself or society, but I thought, “Well, people are transferring traditional content from old media to new media (without realizing the potential of the new media). The transition will create some revenue, but the only value-add will be from optimization of delivery.” I got out of Apple when Steve Jobs died. I remembered what happened to them after he left the first time. There seemed to be continuing confidence in Tim Cook’s ability all around. I’m taking a wait and see approach. After I got out, Apple took off again, and the run-up was steeper than when I was in it. D’oh! The thing is, I want to understand why I’m investing in something. Trend investing feels like gambling without understanding the game.

    I don’t quite get the valuation of Facebook. I understand its membership is huge, but from everything I’ve been hearing, it’s had trouble making a profit.

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