Another day, another company buys a promising smaller company at a high valuation. AOL recently announced they had purchased Santa Monica-based Gravity for $90 million. Gravity was founded in 2009 and deals in the world of content personalization. After the recent focuses on search and more recently all things social, personalization is one of the hot new trends in web.
The concept of personalization isn't new. Everyone appreciates having personalized attention and service. If I walk into a business and they have automatic doors and someone smiling and greeting me that's better service, but it's not personalizing. Now if I walk in and they greet me by name, with reference to an earlier visit or want and their display of offerings are catered to that need, that is personalization.
On the web, businesses have offered a static one size fits all approach to their offerings. However you arrive at a website, what you see is the same for everyone who arrives at that website at the same time. Visitors are bombarded with a myriad of content, links and calls to action in the hope that visitors will act on some of them. According to AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, in this new conceived world "a personal web filter will reshape how consumers get information and services."
A number of web businesses have incorporated elements of personalization into their web presentations for years. Amazon displays recommendations based off your previous history and interests. YouTube recommends additional videos that are 'somehow' related to the video you have chosen. Pandora creates customized streaming stations based off your feedback. Each are created via thematic algorithms. In the world of email marketing, a big transformation was introduced with segmented lists and tailored emails based off customer actions and responses.
For websites, the challenge is to create dynamic website personalization in order to increase stickiness and conversion. The same content and calls to action aren't appealing to everyone equally. So what if you could cater and customize them to your visitor?
The method that Gravity has been employing is to develop "Interest Graphs" which would customize the content you see on any sites you visit. The Interest Graphs are developed from a list of topics and concepts derived from what you've been looking at on the internet. The more you explore and read articles, it learns and then recommends more of what you tend to like. Gravity offers their services to companies for a fee, but you can see some of their actualized efforts on the recently released Google Chrome extension called Highlighter which creates a "personalized newsfeed of what you might want to read on any content site you visit."
One of the concerns with personalization efforts is that it effectively "niche's" out the internet. Is only some content available to you? What if you wanted to be exposed to new content or offerings that didn't previously fit in your Interest Graph? What if you are in a different mood and want to see whatever some site has chosen to offer, regardless of your history or regular desires? Are we only to see a familiar corridor of the internet that conforms to those established personal interests? And what if they get the algorithm wrong? How predictive and customized can they be? For instance, before today, I knew nothing of Gravity or their personalization efforts. There is a wonderful freedom to allowing yourself to wander and learn. Blazing new paths can be energizing. I can only hope that my interest graph is evolving fast enough to keep up with me. Done well, the potential of web personalization is transformative.
As Gravity CEO Amit Kapur states ""Every day we're presented with an overwhelming amount of information to consume on our favorite websites and apps. It's time to move beyond searching for the best content to having the best content search for you."