Who’s looking at you online?

I knew when I started university that I would be learning a ton in my classes but something I didn’t predict was how much I would learn from other students. I really resisted the idea of going to physical classes, for the obvious reasons: I’m not only an introvert, but an introvert who is solidly 20+ years older than the vast majority of first year university students. But I get it now. University is an incubator of ideas. It’s like non-stop over-stimulation and ideas all the fucking time – and no time to turn these ideas into writing!

Anyway, the other day, Courtney was selling me on her insanely interesting digital skills class* by telling me about an extension for the Firefox browser called Lightbeam that she had to test and blog about. Lightbeam describes itself this way:

Lightbeam uses interactive visualizations to show you the first and third party sites you interact with on the Web. As you browse, Lightbeam reveals the full depth of the Web today, including parts that are not transparent to the average user.

I’m working on a paper right now, so naturally it seemed like the perfect time to check out Lightbeam myself. 😛

I wanted to examine my most visited sites, so I looked at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, WordPress, Google Calendar, the Globe and Mail and the New York Times. Next I did a search for an Architectural Digest article that my professor mentioned in class today. Finally, I ran two Google searches (“ethics of outing” and “ideology of office design”, if you are interested), and opened five related links. I also logged in to my Ryerson University portal (which houses online components of our classes along with a host of apps). Here’s how all that looks:

Lightbeam visualization of my half-hour browsing session this afternoon. Crazy, right?

In 25 minutes, I looked at 14 sites. 202 third party sites took a look back at me. Something to think about. I didn’t even look at anything weird or risky. It might be interesting to, say, go look at some porn and see how this visualization changes.

Dots represent the sites I actually visited, and triangles the third party sites I connected with. What interests me here is that I thought the worst offenders by far would be social media, but the Globe, HuffPo, the New York Times, and Architectural Digest blow them right out of the water. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that media is slimy, but it does break my heart a little. I am also disappointed to learn that the Globe shares more of my information than the New York Times does. I guess because I think of the NYT as having a much broader (ie. global) reach than the Globe and Mail (which I think of as very Canada-centric), that result was surprising. I was relieved to see Ryerson way out there on the left, nice and secure, on its own. Good job, Ryerson. You can do better, Globe.

Try it, it’s fun.

*   Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like I will be able to take this class but the reasons are probably too boring to get into here (long story short, it’s an option in my program’s table of “professionally-related” courses, but it is in the same category as the prerequisite course for my news studies minor and I don’t think I can get credit for both because it does not appear on either the elective or liberal studies lists – told you it was a boring story).

2 thoughts on “Who’s looking at you online?

  1. Maybe it’s because I’ve got two artists in the family, but there’s something attractive about that graph that makes me think someone might be able to conjure up a new art form (and by saying that I’m probably showing my art ignorance – someone’s probably already doing it) by using Lightbeam as the “brush” and web browsing as the “paint” . . . or is that vice versa? A new form of self-portraiture?

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