Follow Me, Track Me, Pigeonhole and Segment Me... Please!

I don't know if my Comcast Xfinity iPad app is tracking my nightly crawl through its countless cable channels, noting which channels I tend to pick and ignore, what my tastes in nighttime entertainment might be. But lord, I sure hope it is. This indispensable app is tied to my cable box so that at long last I am freed from the stultifying and bad on-screen channel surfing interface. It turns the iPad into a big, fat, smart remote control that can filter the hundreds of channels by content type, search for specific shows and then flick my cable box to the channel at the tap of a button. It also has a Favorites section that seems to have many of the channels I frequent, even though I haven't actually designated any of them as "Faves." None of this creeps me out in the slightest. It only makes me want more. This thing is smart, but not smart enough.

Frankly, I hope the Xfinity app is recording every damn poke I make every night. I hope it tracks my routines so closely that it knows that my wife and I have only one appointment TV time left in us  -- "Modern Family" on Wednesdays. I want it to know that at 11 p.m. the odds are 90% I am turning to Jon Stewart and that at 11:35 the odds are 45% I am checking out who is on Letterman, that at 10 p.m. it is 50/50 I am sneering at the diminished quality of Anderson Cooper's nightly newscasts. For God's sake, track me, categorize me, stereotype me if you like, Comcast. Just save me from that relentless scroll of useless cable channels that digital "choice" has foisted on me.  



It is in the daily battle with overwhelming choice that behavioral tracking technologies at long last have the opportunity to endear themselves to consumers rather than annoy us. In the rush to leverage these digital tracking technologies first in the service of advertising rather than in the service of consumers, marketers got it backwards. Serve us first -- in visible, transparent, genuinely helpful ways -- and then target to your heart's content. 

I am not alone. I recently asked my wife to critique some of the local grocery store mobile apps I was reviewing. They all showed us the weekly specials and even offered to make shopping lists with us, etc. In every case, her criticism was that the apps didn't go far enough in knowing what she wanted so that they would be of real use to her rather than to the store. "They should be offering me recipes that go with the weekly specials and know where I am in the store so they can guide me to where the other ingredients are on the shelves," she said. "They should know I am a vegetarian and am not interested in the $2.99 chicken breast special -- nor in any recipes with meat."  

Two things stand out to me about my wife's take on the utility of digital media. First, at no point in her weaving of this personalization dream scenario did she once mention privacy or fear of being tracked by a commercial entity. When I raised the question, she shrugged it off. So what if they know about me if they give me what I want, she said. The value exchange was obvious to her. But what also impressed me is how she, like me, could now easily imagine beyond the functionality these devices were already offering. Digital sophistication has evolved so quickly that it makes me wonder whether many consumers are already thinking ahead of the providers and expecting a day when digital tracking, personalization and automation finally will give them valet-like service from their gadgets.   

In a world of suffocating choice, my guess is that there is actually a pent-up demand among consumers to be tracked -- and served. 

1 comment about "Follow Me, Track Me, Pigeonhole and Segment Me... Please!".
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  1. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group, September 30, 2011 at 3:51 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more! I know it's because I'm a direct marketer that I just don't get the issue with companies knowing what I like and what I don't -- as long as those interests aren't automatically broadcast to the rest of the world. (I think that's the big thing that weirds people out about Facebook. I may "like" Pepsi, but I don't want them to start spamming my friends.)

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