This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
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Monday, April 3, 2006
Personalization, the wrong way
While I was reading the NYT piece on You Tube, which I wrote about right before this post, I saw this article on Claria, the makers of the much-hated Gator web-tracking software.

Trying to shake off the negative stigma of Gator and all of those damn pop-up ads, Claria is moving toward web personalization. You install some app and they will track all of your activity and serve you related content on a personal start page. Woo Hoo! It's 1999 all over again.

Why is it that companies still don't get what makes content relevant on the web? There are a million personal start page services out there (that don't make you install software) and few (maybe none) of them are compelling.

For me, personalization isn't as important as "interestingness." This is a term that Flickr uses for one of its algorithms, but it is basically the same effect you get from sites like Digg and reddit. I use Digg every day and it is not personalized at all. It emphasizes what their user base finds interesting. Digg items that I consume are often not in topics that I would normally list as an interest.

I would rather see content filtered by people, especially if I could mark some people as more influential than others, rather than have some algorithm trying to figure out what I might like based on what I've done in the past. For example, if I have found someone who consistently diggs stuff that I like, I would like to be able to see all of that person's diggs bundled with blog posts from someone else who I enjoy reading bundled with photos from someone else whose photos I like.

Claria's approach to personalization sounds sort of like TiVo's Suggestions feature which I disabled years ago. It assumes that all activity is relevant and should be factored into the algorithm. It doesn't consider that I might read a sports-related story (maybe the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl), but not be interested in seeing more sports stories. And if I have to tune the algorithm to correct mistakes, then I might as well do the whole thing myself.

As with TV recommendations, I prefer to find web content through people I know, not through an algorithm.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.