Claria's New Behavior: Personalized Content

You could say that Claria is on its best behavior. After years of controversy surrounding its adware solutions and the old Gator brand, the company started aiming its behavioral tracking engine at content, and this week brings its PersonalWeb (My.PersonalWeb.com) engine out of beta. Using a downloadable client, this supercharged personal portal monitors your online behavior anonymously and pushes relevant content modules and recommendations onto your home page. CEO Scott Eagle explains how the company hopes to become a personalization platform for publishers, brands and even emerging media.

Behavioral Insider: How did this product evolve from Claria’s previous offerings?

Scott Eagle: About two years ago, we were talking to Web publishers and device makers about our platform, which had broken ground in understanding behavior that maps to advertising. They said, why not take this engine that shows massive increases of user engagement for advertisers and deploy it for content?

If we understand you like tennis or are traveling to London, then rather than just selling you a plane ticket to London or tennis racket, why not bring people content that shows three great restaurants -- or that Wimbledon is at that time, and that last week NYTimes.com had a great article on Wimbledon?

Two years ago we announced we were going to get out of the adware business and not use this engine to run pop-up advertising. And we said that we don’t actually plan to use our product as consumer facing. Rather, we wanted to take this platform to all partners who had an audience and wanted to increase their engagement with consumers, a Web publisher or portal or software publisher or even cable companies and telecos for IPTV. We want to be the personalization platform that powers all these devices.

Behavioral Insider: What has been the experience with PersonalWeb?

Eagle: Our proof of concept, PerosnalWeb, launched last April, and we have had over 800,000 beta downloads. It starts by organizing the exact content you use today. It looks at any Web history you have on your computer up to 28 days. It sees you used Gmail or Yahoo search and it starts to populate your home page with sites you go to today. If you go to Mediapost all the time or BusinessWeeks.com we bring in feeds from them. Then we use collaborative filtering to recommend other sites. So I get a ‘My Web Media’ [module] that recommended Mediapost and ClickZ and iMedia Connection. And then users can control all that and add more modules.

But we knew from prior research that less than 10% of people actually personalize the page; the vast majority say they want the benefits of personalization, but less than 10% actually personalize. And when they do personalize, only 18% keep it fresh. My March Madness stuff on My Yahoo will be there for months. PersonalWeb makes it automatic -- and we’ll add content as appropriate and move it up the page as the interest changes. As we audition content and you click on it, we will give you more recommended content. If you are not using, it we take it off the page.

Behavioral Insider: And how does this pan out in user response?

Eagle: People interact with that page more than three times more than they did with traditional portal pages. It is not surprising that they are three times more engaged when you give them the content in one place. We get click rates up to 65% higher.

Behavioral Insider: But my PersonalWeb page only has a few elements I can identify as personalized.

Eagle: This is no different from starting a relationship with a new friend. Over time I will get smarter about you. You’re right. When you first download PersonalWeb we look at your history and Web settings and we also take things we know are generally popular. But as you travel the Web we have all kinds of thresholds and frequency metrics. If you check out one article on Lance Armstrong somewhere, we’re not going to say you’re a bike freak and put it on your page. We have an algorithm that says we won’t assume you are into biking until we see the behavior over time. 

So we then map it to this anonymous system that identifies user interests all the way down to the long tail. It’s not just liking sports, but all the way down to liking fly fishing overseas. Over the last two years we drilled down to hundreds of categories, and we use RSS feeds as a source for new categories. We create a ‘My Mall’ at the top of the page that compiles the stores you visit frequently. There’s a shopping module, so if you are shopping for a specific SKU somewhere back at PersonalWeb you will have a shopping module that shows reviews and five other places to buy that SKU. It’s a proof of concept that you can understand people’s behavior in real time and map it to categories of interest and get these kinds of engagement metrics.

Behavioral Insider: How do existing content sites leverage this?  

Eagle: We said when we embarked on this we were not trying to create new products for consumers. We want to create a foundational personalization technology that could be used by anyone that has audiences they want to engage further. It will take larger audiences to improve the algorithms. Rogers Communications is a partner and an investor. There will be a Rogers Sportsnet powered by PersonalWeb featuring Rogers news where appropriate and then will bring in other content. They want to engage their users more and be the start page. Other publishers are talking about creating quadrants of their site, [like a] Buzz Index that is behaviorally targeted. They can create more engagement by consumers by putting highly targeted content on the page.

Behavioral Insider: But for a publisher to use it, they need the users to maintain a client on their PC. What has Claria learned about client-based monitoring?

Eagle: We built PersonalWeb with privacy by design. What is loud and clear from the beta is, you [must] make personalization of content its reason for being, so every day it is obvious. When people elect and opt in to get a new home page that understands their behavior, that’s the whole reason for being. Let us understand your behavior so we can personalize the experience. There is no separate tracking to give you pop-up ad ads. It is obvious every time you come to that page we are understanding your behavior, and at any point you can turn it off. We built in all the right aspects of privacy -- not just the mandatory ones.

And then the other side is how we protect that data. It’s anonymous. There is no personally identifiable info. We don’t have email, last name or even IP address. We keep data for less than three to six months. The proposition is, the consumer has a relationship [to] the trusted provider, and we will provide the technology to make our partner’s applications and devices smarter and more valuable. It is about a platform play.

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