Up Close and Personalized

As personalization becomes a driving force of search engine innovation, it's worthwhile to pause and consider how well personalization works in other technologies. To narrow the focus, we'll specifically look at how this all applies to subsidiary, one of the newest search engines.

Personalization and Telephones For landline phones, speed-dial is a personalization feature that's been clunky at best. Then came cell phones. Having the phone numbers entered in the phone was a critical prerequisite to using the phone.

As technology improved, cell phones could store numbers that called in, working in conjunction with built-in caller ID. On another level, caller ID ensures the call goes through; people are much more likely to respond when the incoming communication is from a known source and on-target.

In what situation does personalization make search engines more useful? One takeaway here could be to develop different personalization profiles. For instance, with Amazon's A9, I register with my Amazon account, which uses my personal e-mail address.



Yet I use for shopping at home and A9 for business queries at work. While I'm fine with only one login, it might be useful to easily switch profiles based on where I am, ideally by A9 recognizing which computer or connection I'm using, thus automating the process.

This would make its list of recent searches more useful too. Almost everyone has different bookmarks at home and work. Why not customize the search engine accordingly?

Personalization and Television

Even with 500 channels, personalization was a non-issue for TV until TiVo and friends came along to shake things up. This led to ad skipping, being able to watch your two favorite shows that are (without fail) always on at the same time, and the classic Jeffrey Zaslow article in "The Wall Street Journal" from December 2002, "Oh No! My TiVo Thinks I'm Gay."

Zaslow astutely wrote, "A lot of gadgets and websites feature 'personalization technologies' that profile consumers by tracking what they watch, listen or buy. Many consumers appreciate having computers delve into their hearts and heads. But some say it gives them the willies..."

TiVo and other personal video recorders (PVRs) have learned a few things from the search space, namely allowing people to find and access content on their own terms. So what can search engines learn from PVRs?

Beware of too much personalization. A9 is currently 'personalization lite,' though in the best sense of the word. A9 saves user history, but if someone happens to do research on Josef Mengele and eugenics, A9 won't start recommending the user check out neo-Nazi online dating sites.

Some search engines may strive for that degree of sophistication; there's something to be said for the 'keep it simple, stupid' approach. Any advanced features in A9 are user-initiated, so one can control whether to explore further.

Personalization and the Internet

Fittingly, one of the Internet's personalization masters is, having pioneered best practices and garnering near-universal acclaim for its constant innovation. Still, even Amazon has some personalization issues.

I'm a frequent online shopper there, and Amazon won't easily distinguish between what I want for myself and what's a gift. When I researched an Indigo Girls CD for my sister, "Just Because I'm a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton" immediately appeared in my recommendations. Despite way too many other purchases since last holiday season, Amazon's still convinced I'm interested in the video games I buy my nephew once every 12 months.

This isn't to pick on Amazon. What's frustrating is that this company is renowned as the greatest, so there's a lot of pressure for perfection. Amazon knows that all too well.

Okay, Amazon, what can you learn from yourself? Don't make too many assumptions. Give consumers control. The best thing about the new A9 interface is that it lets users choose which features to turn on or off. The next step may be giving users complete control over the interface, so people can choose which features appear at all and where they're situated.

A9 and others are on the path to get as personal as you want them to be. Let's hope those that try will strike a balance, giving users no more, no less.

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