I Think I’m Being Watched: The Trend Towards Personalization

5505363344_33253c68eb_oMost of the messages in my inbox nowadays are not only addressed to me in the subject line, they sometimes include cute abbreviations or nicknames of my given name. If I visit a webpage or an online video, I can see which of my Facebook friends (no matter how distant) have already liked it. Every page I visit, every webcomic I read includes a right-nav history of all of the online browsing I’ve been doing in the past month.

Romi Mahajan recently pointed out an online big data organizer called AdTelligence whose entire business is focused on assimilating all of this information in order to convert more customers (obviously useful for businesses, but ostensibly useful for the user, as well who sees the information that she wants to see). And it’s all detailed and real-time. It’s hard work: imagine a file cabinet full of every preference you’ve ever had and multivariate predictions of what those behaviors mean you will prefer in the future. Ideally, it’s you as an algorithm to the best of anyone’s ability.

And yet, I still can’t get Car2Go to come to the Bay Area no matter how much it would take these cities by storm.  I think the key here still lies with crowd and ideation software that can tell you where things are needed in the real world, no matter what’s been predicted in the online world. Anyone can tell you that if I like Zipcar, I’d love Car2Go, but proving that the market is rich with people like me still requires crowd movement.

Do you think there are inherent risks in online personalization? How does personalization balance with crowdsourcing?

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