ARCHIVE: March, 2006

Transparency and Control

Yesterday I talked about liking the term transparent personalization.

But today I’m still mulling it over.

Does it mean that we completely see and comprehend the personalization that’s going on? I consider Amazon book recommendations transparent in this way. I can tell Amazon whether or not to include certain purchases in their recommendations, and I can tell them if I’m not interested in something they recommended.

Or does it mean, by including the word implicitly, that we don’t see how things are recommended to us, and that it’s simply done behind the scenes? I think that many new services are trying to get to this point, but I don’t think that it gives the user enough control, or more to the point, the illusion of control.

If something is transparent, then you don’t see it. However, we often use the term to mean that we see it for what it is, as in “his motives were transparent”.

In my talk about Leveraging the Network I made the mention that users want to be in control. Is there a piece of software that you love that doesn’t give you the feeling of control?

In addition, control is about action, and results of our actions. If we completely release people of their ability to make actionable changes in software, they’ll start to feel like they don’t have control. So let them change things, add things, vote on things. And take those changes into consideration when making recommendations. And then, most importantly, let the user know what you did, and they’ll still feel in control.

We don’t want the Web feeling like TV.

On Google’s Transparent Personalization

Greg Linden on Google’s plans for the future:

“And slide 19 (in the notes) talks about how their work is inspired by the idea of “a world with infinite storage, bandwidth, and CPU power.” They say that “the experience should really be instantaneous”. They say that they should be able to “house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc)” which leads to a world where “the online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy and your local-machine copy serves more like a cache”. And, they say that they want “transparent personalization” that uses user “data to transparently optimize the user’s experience … implicitly.”

Transparent Personalization.

What a *great* term.

A Small Yet Significant Switch

I have personal evidence that news brands are dying.

Today I realized that the memetrackers (Tailrank, in this case) are my first choice for news now, even if it isn’t tech news. Up till now, I’ve still been relying on CNN to give me the latest, but I am now ready to stop site grazing for news headlines and go straight to a memetracker first. (for many tech-heads, this has already happened)

I realized this change had occurred when the top story was the 2nd part of the conversation between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, which is the best writing on the Web at the moment, and the thing I am definitely most interested in.

Big change

Though seemingly small, I think this is a significant change (for me, at least), as the power of brand is all about top-of-mind. Which service do you turn to first? Is it CNN, or is it Tailrank? If you only had one site to look at, which would you choose? Which do you trust to give you the better information? The first answer that pops into your head is the stronger brand, as far as it matters to you.

So, even though we talk about the power of companies and the brands they portray, the real activity goes on in our heads each and every moment. What’s counter-intuitive to think about is that news brands survive because of millions of choices made every day, not because they have a monopoly on the news. It’s not that they have a physical lock on anything. Instead, they have a mental lock on us, simply because we think of them before we think of others.

This is all old-hat, of course. In no way is this a new, blazing insight into the minds of man. The insight for me was that I didn’t realize how strong the CNN brand was for me, until I actually thought about switching away from it. It also suggests that when designing things like memetrackers that compete with very strong brands, any mental associative devices you can add might be helpful. This is probably why so much time is spent on taglines…because when they work, they work to be the first thing recalled when a particular topic comes up.

Aggregators have an advantage

In a way, aggregators will always have advantages over systems that have their own agenda to push, even if that agenda is, in part, to provide the best and latest news. The Simmons/Gladwell story that I’m interested in is at ESPN, not on Sports Illustrated, which is affiliated with CNN. The memetrackers are simply being less biased than the news organizations who claim the same, and so have no problem showing me just most talked about memes.

So the thing I’m most interested in won’t be available on the CNN homepage any time soon. The switch has flipped.

On Delicious Intelligence

James Corbett has a great post on the emergence of intelligence on

“…with this in mind I decided to test what intelligence might be evident in the social bookmarking service.”

On OPML 2.0

OPML 2.0 is out.

“We now know how OPML is being used, and where the problems are, and I think are ready to produce a frozen and extensible format and spec.”

Yep, we do know how OPML is being used. Information grazing is a big part of it.

The Long Tail of Popularity

Update: Simplified the beginning…

In his 2005 Les Blogs presentation Doc Searls, in his explanation of what blogs are and what they are not, suggested that:

“We are all authors of each other.”

What exactly does Doc mean by this? Does he mean that we author other people’s lives, and they ours, whether or not we want them to? Or could it mean something more optimistic, that we author each other gladly?

Then there’s the problem of popularity. How does popularity fit into the idea that we all author each other? Don’t popular things help shape us, too? Do the voices that add up to popularity author us in the aggregate?

Popularity is maligned as much as any attribute known to man. If you are popular, you are probably not worth paying attention to. It’s as if we are saying: “You already have too much attention, and I’m not going to give you more.”

But I think there is much more to popularity than unwarranted attention.

Continue Reading: The Long Tail of Popularity

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