Personalization Has Its Perils

Opinion: Opportunities to tighten ties to customers require careful thought about buyers' goals.

If I wanted to spoil my wifes attempt to surprise me on my birthday, would have made it easy for me to do that—but only because she tried to use Amazons services to make my gift keep on giving.

Developers who plan to deploy a "personalized" Web service should consider the implications, and make sure that their service designs can handle the real world of their customers complexities.

Web content and presence personalization is a great thing, and developers are getting great new tools to do it. At last weeks VSLive conference in San Francisco, developers had an opportunity to look at the Indigo programming model that represents Microsofts future migration path from its ASP .Net platform.

Microsoft assures developers, though, that Indigo represents an opportunity rather than a mandate, and that ASP .Net content can interoperate with Indigo-based services: Personalization using ASP .Net techniques is therefore an investment whose paybacks may continue for quite some time to come.

The next generation of personalization will not be merely data-based, but also event- and situation-based: Im talking about personalization of content, presentation, and services based on context such as a users device and location. Thats the focus of efforts from technology providers such as Action Engine Corp., of Redmond, Wash., and of course from telematics service providers such as OnStar—although some concepts for in-car services are taking time to build momentum, while platform vulnerabilities are a rising concern. Meanwhile, telematics hardware building blocks continue to come forth.

Theres another kind of context to consider, and thats the context in which the service itself is running: Much of what makes Web services interesting is in the area of services negotiating dynamically with each other to do the most useful thing with the resources available at that moment.

But personalization, in most cases, means working with people who have even more unpredictable behaviors driven by complex desires and goals. For example, my wife decided to order some books for my birthday while logged in to under my user profile, thereby placing the books she was giving me into the database that would use for my future recommendations. Unfortunately, this triggered an e-mail to me promoting another title that their data indicated I might like, since I already "owned" a similar book that I didnt yet know I was getting. Oops.

/zimages/4/28571.gifDevelopers should build systems that dont take normal routine for granted. Click here to read more.

This incident does suggest some opportunities for strengthening customer lock-in to retail sites: For example, offering an option to remember who received a purchased item, or place that item on another persons list of owned items after a certain date: sort of the flip side of an Amazon "wish list."

Fortunately, the title that triggered Amazon.coms too-helpful suggestion was one that my wife had ordered for someone else at the same time—so her surprise is still mostly intact. And after 25 years of marriage, I know better than to yield to temptation by logging in to look at the rest of the list of things I "own," or at the order tracking page to see what Im about to get.

At least, I hope I know better than that.

Tell me what you wish I knew better at

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