The rift between ‘personalisation’ and ‘intelligence’

‘Personalisation’ is an oft-spoken term in the TV biz, which will inevitably get significant airtime this festive period as media execs don their gypsy scarfs and gold rings and settle down in front of their metaphorical crystal balls to predict how our industry will evolve in the coming year.

The debate about exactly how personalisation is going to uproot our lives is a lively one that concerns a wide spectrum of digital companies, and tends to revolve around topics such as better recommendations, social integrations, easier to navigate controls like search and so on. For someone like me, this is music to my ears. Putting in the groundwork required to refine my digital experience has never been a strongpoint, however I’m ever-eager to hand over the reins where I can, and willing to impart personal information and even endure some extra adverts to have my life made easier.

Despite this, I constantly see wasted opportunities as digital companies fail to capitalise on valuable insight I give them every day about my behaviour. The technology to make my experience better already exists, but businesses sometimes seem hesitant to employ it, and I believe that this lack of proactivity is blocking true advancement in personalisation.

Every morning of every day, like clockwork, I read the news from the same app on my phone. I implement the same technique, swiping through the stories that have been neatly lined up for me, getting my fix of the top stories without having to actively search. So far, so good. However each day when I arrive at the sports stories my thumb goes into overdrive, getting them out of my sight as quickly as possible lest the latest score somehow sneak into my consciousness where it doesn’t belong. At best, the start of the sports news signals an irreversible decline in my interest levels; often it is enough to make me exit the app altogether.

Sure, I’m likely still being fed this content because I haven’t inputted my preferences into my ‘settings’ tab, but who says I should have to? True initiative and intelligence would be sending me a notification that offers to remove these from my news feed.

Beyond individual apps, even technology behemoths that control and create whole ecosystems fall short of my expectations surrounding intuitive personalisation. My mobile is a jumble of apps, some invaluable to my life and some useless, some which I downloaded and some which were pre-installed, which are arranged with little logic across my phone’s different ‘pages’. Why, instead of waiting until I reach peak frustration and embark on a maniacal re-ordering binge, could Samsung not suggest a new format to me which makes all my most-used apps easily accessible, or even offer to delete apps I never use?

Clearly there is an issue of split loyalties here, as phone makers and operating systems understandably want to avoid upsetting brands by prompting consumers to delete their apps. Nevertheless, digital companies need to consider new approaches like this to validate not only their service costs but also their breadth of data collection, or risk my scepticism that promises of personalisation are all talk and no substance.

by Alice Talbot

Image: Jason Howie via Creative Commons