"My prediction would be [that] a few years from now ... we'll all look back and wonder why these services weren't personalized. The world is moving in this direction where everything is designed around people."
He was partly right. And partly wrong.
Here's what Mark Zuckerberg got right.
The Internet is indeed becoming a more personalized place. We are in increasing numbers giving up our user information for information, content and advertising that we find useful.
Forty-eight million of us have given our information to Pandora. And in return, we get the ability to create personalized radio stations. We have found this to be a compelling value proposition. Recent estimates suggest that the average Pandora user spends 11.6 hours every month on the radio station web site.
Millions of us have given our email addresses to advertisers and asked them to send us more relevant advertising. A Responsys study revealed that top online retailers sent 12% more emails in 2009 than they did the year before -- and 39% more than they sent in 2007. We give these retailers our email address for more than just promotions. We expect that these retailers to send us exclusive information on items we like -- be it a blazer, summer dress or a new pair of jeans.
We give our social networking handles to advertisers. Nearly half a million pet owners have given their Facebook and Twitter usernames to the ASPCA. In return, they receive information on local adoption clinics and real-time tips such as "How Are Ticks Transmitted to Dogs?" and "What to Do If Your Cat Keeps You Awake at Night?"
Finally, advertisers and publishers are speaking to us like we are real people with unique likes, dislikes and preferences. They have stopped treating us like anomymous impressions, nothing more than nameless statistics for unique visitor line graphs. This allows us to read the content we want, listen to the music we like and save time on our shopping.
So yes, Zuckerberg was right when he said that in a few years from now, we'll all wonder why all the services we use on the Internet weren't personalized.
But he wasn't entirely right. To be 100% spot on, he should have said, "The world is moving in this direction where everything is designed around what people choose."
There's no doubt that consumers like a personalized experience -- only if they have opted in for that personalized experience. Personalization with permission is useful. Otherwise, it's just plain creepy.
Think about it. It's one thing to tell Fresh Direct that you like tangerines, and ask them to email you deals and specials on these tangy delights. It's quite another to have a salesperson from Fresh Direct go through your trash, discover you like tangerines and send you information on the same.
Publishers and advertisers should focus every effort on delivering a personalized experience to users. But they should first ask people in a clear and transparent way if they are willing to give up their personal information.
And just how often should they ask?
To quote Steve Jobs from the same D8 conference, "Ask them repeatedly. Ask them and ask them every time -- till they get tired and ask you to stop asking them."
And that's just the kind of fatigue that's welcome online.