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Personalization is the Future

In The Race to Create a ‘Smart Google’, Fortune writer Jeffrey O’Brien explores the world of recommendation engines.  Notionally, these are software agents that watch user behaviour in different contexts, and make recommendations based on the learning they glean from these contexts.  They’ve been around for a long time.  Amazon’s recommendations are probably the most prominent, but many others have been used.

Why the prominence now?  Perhaps it’s because with the advent of massive social networking sites like Myspace, the potential to collect the contextual information needed to drive these engines is greater than it has ever been.  Or, perhaps it’s because the web itself is now so large that users are stepping back from that complexity, abandoning sites in a bid for simplicity.  Or perhaps it’s the promise of niche markets – those long tails which promise riches by catering to the needs of the “mass market” outside the mass market. 

Some pooh-pooh the idea, pointing to the myriad ways such systems can fail, and painting scenarios of obnoxious recommendation agents proposing that users purchase unwanted products based on false assumptions.  Imagine Microsoft Office’s “clippy”, urging you to buy buy buy…   Shopping is an obvious way to monetize this feature, but as Tivo has proven, it’s not the only way.  Moreover, agent technologies are cropping in all kinds of places, ranging from the simple systems that Windows Vista uses to schedule PC maintenance to much more sophisticated technologies designed to help you better manage communications (iotum, for instance) or discover interesting content on the web.

Personalization is the future.  We’re all unique.  The mass marketing of the past century was an attempt by business to make us uniform consumers.  But we ain’t.  And that’s why recommendation systems are so interesting and critical moving forward. 

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