"Now they're getting slutty," my daughter mutters, as she hits the late-‘80s section of a complete compilation of Playboy centerfolds that a publisher sent me for review. She and my partner got hold of the volume after I protested that I only "had it for a review." They pored over every month passing judgment on bodies and poses. I may be a dumb male, but I know better than to answer the "Do you think that is attractive?" question no matter what the circumstances. Most families play cards or watch TV. We evaluate airbrushed naked women. It's an interesting family, but it's mine. I try to chastise them over all of this but they are hunting for the first instance of pubic hair in a gatefold. They hold up a candidate, and I lose my better judgment.
"Ah, Liv Lindeland," I respond to the gorgeous Nordic lass of my junior high fantasies.
"You remember her name?" my better half snarls.
"Well, what do you expect, he has Playboy on his iPhone," my daughter chimes in. Now, it's a pile-on.
I try to protest that I don't have Playboy on my phone -- until I look down and see the bunny icon on my fifth home page. I admit I forgot that I had a shortcut to Quattro Wireless's mobile Web site for the brand. I had reviewed the early Mobi-sodes of their "Interns" reality show months back.
"You remember a Playmate from 35 years ago but not having Playboy on your iPhone?" one or both of them shoot back at me -- I can't remember which, and in these moments the two of them tend to morph in my addled head.
Which of course is the point. Actually, the "Interns" series was interesting and worth a few minutes every week or so, but I never remembered to keep up even though I must have rifled past that apparently invisible Playboy icon every day. But isn't a deck that surfaces the brands you really like exactly what many of us had been clamoring for all these years? I know I have been. Back in the day when I first started reviewing mobile content for various publications my main complaint was forget-ability. Even when we paid those ridiculous $4 and $5 monthly subscription fees for horoscopes and sports scores on a phone deck, most of us forgot that we had them buried somewhere eight painful clicks deep in what we laughingly called a phone operating system. I was thrilled with my first RAZR, simply because it let me put a handful of key functions on the start page.
Be careful what you wish for. So now I have an iPhone deck that is, well, eight pages deep. They may all be branded icons now but I am still multiple clicks (or swipes) away from what I want, and they aren't even segmented by an ugly but functional topic tree anymore. I synched my iPhone yesterday and used the PC interface to uncheck some apps and clear things out a bit on the phone. Only in the iTunes interface, seeing all the installed programs in list form did I realize I had forgotten half of what was on my deck. In other words, the icons became invisible and forgettable too.
Now this isn't a tragedy or anything novel, since we forget much of what is in our desktop browser bookmarks, too. But it is a challenge for content providers on mobile. You need to find ways of pulling users back into the app.
Apple may be helping content providers fix this invisibility problem. The OS 3.0 platform the company announced last month will have a unified "push notification" system. Apps will be able to push notices of their updated content to you via an SMS-style alert that can click to open the app.
This seems to me part of the solution, but one that makes a whole nest of other problems. How many text alerts can we stand? If I have over fifty apps on my deck and only a small percentage of them are enabled to send update alerts, I still have a mess on my hands. Content providers need something like email to do what email newsletters do so effectively online: remind people of the brand. But SMS is not the equivalent of email. Cluttered email inboxes are a bother. Persistent mobile alerts will drive you batty.
Clearly the answer to this conundrum is the same as many problems the mobile platform poses, personalization. And I don't mean check-box type personalization. If we leverage the alert system Apple and others might build to keep users in the content consumption loop, then ultimately we need it to be a learning system. We can't expect people to proactively manage alert systems, and maybe we shouldn't even expect them to manage personalization of their own mobile Web experience.
I believe at least one major carrier is already using behavioral tracking to personalize some aspects of content delivery on its mobile portal. But I need a recommendation engine for my own iPhone. Why shouldn't the supposed Genius working to recommend my own favorite tunes to me in iTunes also help push my most-used icons towards the first screen? Why shouldn't publisher alerts learn when I do and don't click through to help target future alerts?
And some day that personalization brain that is working on my behalf (let's call it an information valet) might be smart enough to know that I have a 17-year-old daughter who loves to make trouble. Perhaps my valet will tuck the Playboy icon on the last screen the same way we hid the magazine under our beds oh so many years ago.
"Guys hid Playboys under their beds? Why?...Oh. Ewww! Too much information, there, Dad."
My point, exactly.