La “personalizzazione” fa sempre bene ?

AICEX : La Personalizzazione ci fa bene come consumatori e clienti ma ci  fa meno bene come cittadini. Abbiate pazienza ma dovete leggere sino alla fine per capirlo :- )

Increasingly, we are surrounded by personalization – retail stores offering special deals based on your shopping history, Web sites serving up news based on what you’ve clicked on in the past, and marketers selecting the right message for you based on where you live, what else you own, and what you’ve actually bought (or not bought) before.

As one of the very first proponents of personalized marketing, I should be extremely pleased with myself. Just the other day, a news editor emailed me to say “Countless people have said to me in the past month alone, ‘Now is the time for true one-to-one marketing [and at scale]. Now we have the technology to make this a reality.’”

There are many benefits to personalization.

You can get individually customized products, from blue jeans or running shoes to bicycles or cars. You can order custom-printed M&Ms and custom-labeled bottled water. And because companies remember your data and preferences, you don’t have to tell an online store where you live and what your credit card details are every time you buy from them, nor do you need ten minutes to complete a new form or contract every time you book a hotel room or rent a car.

But customization does have a downside, too.

From the very beginning, whenever I talked about the benefits of personalization, one or two people would take me aside to point out some of this downside. For instance, the more you get your news online, the more likely it is that the websites you get your news from will adapt to your interests. Click on a story about your college basketball team, and news about that team will be more likely to be displayed to you the next time you log in. But that means that stories about homelessness, or a genocide in Africa, or the latest technology innovation, are less likely to be displayed. They’ll still be there, they’ll just be one more level down, one more click away from your attention span.

We used to call this the “serendipity” argument for un-personalizing your news. When you leaf through a printed newspaper, printed up the same way for everyone, you are more likely to encounter news or information by sheer luck or happenstance. The industrial espionage story just happens to lie next to the story about your company’s product launch, or the story about battered women is on the same page as the one about a new fitness technique you’re interested in.

The problem is, when you surf the news online, there’s very little serendipity. An algorithm has clocked your past views and clicks, and quantitatively gauged the placement of today’s articles in terms of their likelihood to interest you.

This is just one aspect of the argument explored in Ira Pariser’s 2011 book The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think. It’s not a new argument, but it’s more important today than it was years ago. Today everything seems to be personalized. Advertising messages and product pitches are designed to show you things you are more likely to buy, and (not surprisingly) what you bought yesterday is highly relevant to what you might buy today. And today, according to statistics Pariser cites, more than a third of Americans under 30 already get their news primarily from social networking sites.

One of the problems with personalization is that it runs on algorithms, and these algorithms (at present, anyway) are locked in to presenting new things based on history or data already collected. This means, rather than discovering new facts or perspectives when you search for news, information, or products, you will be presented with “adjacent” concepts. It’s not so much discovery of new ideas as it is exploitation of existing ideas.

According to Pariser, if you talk to a tech person involved in crafting personalization strategies, you’ll learn that one of the biggest obstacles to progress is we could call the “local maximum” problem. Presenting someone with better and better ideas or news about any particular product or concept will inevitably lead toward the best possible news or information about that particular item. But it will also exclude other, unrelated news or information that might in fact be highly relevant to the user. And this kind of filtering can easily cascade on you based on relatively inconsequential actions. As Pariser says, “clicking on a link about gardening or anarchy or Ozzy Osbourne” will in turn supply you with “more information on the topic, which you’re more inclined to click on because the topic has now been primed for you.”

A “filter bubble” like this, moreover, depresses your curiosity, because it is designed to speak to your known and already-expressed information desires. You are less likely to encounter the serendipitous article on gene splicing or The World Cup or the typhoon in The Philippines – articles that might have triggered your interest had you just been exposed to them.

As a result of all this personalization technology, Pariser maintains that as consumers we are more and more exploited for our known preferences and desires, while as citizens we are becoming more and more narrow-minded and insular in our thinking. People have always preferred associating with others who share the same philosophical or political views, and now we hardly even need to be exposed to people who disagree with us.

This would be a dangerous situation for any democratic society, and we should pay attention

AICEX Customer Experience Italian Association


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