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Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals. Once confined mainly to the Web, it is increasingly becoming a factor in education, healthcare (i.e. personalized medicine), and both "business to business" and "business to consumer" settings.


Web pages

Template:Seealso Template:Seealso Web pages are personalized based on the characteristics (interests, social category, context, ...) of an individual. Personalization implies that the changes are based on implicit data, such as items purchased or pages viewed. The term customization is used instead when the site only uses explicit data such as ratings or preferences.

On an intranet or B2E Enterprise Web portals, personalization is often based on user attributes such as department, functional area, or role. The term customization in this context refers to the ability of users to modify the page layout or specify what content should be displayed.

There are three categories of personalizations:

  1. Profile / Group based
  2. Behaviour based
  3. Collaboration based

Web personalization models include rules-based filtering, based on "if this, then that" rules processing, and collaborative filtering, which serves relevant material to customers by combining their own personal preferences with the preferences of like-minded others. Collaborative filtering works well for books, music, video, etc. However, it does not work well for a number of categories such as apparel, jewelry, cosmetics, etc. Recently, another method, "Prediction Based on Benefit", has been proposed for products with complex attributes such as apparel[1].

There are three broad methods of personalizations:

  1. Implicit
  2. Explicit
  3. Hybrid

With implicit personalization the personalization is performed by the web page (or information system) based on the different categories mentioned above. With explicit personalization, the web page (or information system) is changed by the user using the features provided by the system. Hybrid personalization combines the above two approaches for leverage best of both worlds.

Many companies offer services for web recommendation and email recommendation that are based on personalization or anonymously collected user behaviors. Following the example of, the online retailing industry has been early adopters of 3rd party personalization tools offered by companies like iGoDigital and Certona. Other 3rd party vendors like Choice Stream or Vignette bring personalization to content and display advertising.

Web personalization is closely linked to the notion of Adaptive hypermedia (AH). The main difference is that the former would usually work on what is considered an Open Corpus Hypermedia, whilst the latter would traditionally work on Closed Corpus Hypermedia. However, recent research directions in the AH domain take both closed and open corpus into account. Thus, the two fields are closely inter-related.

Personalisation is also being considered for use in less overtly commercial applications to improve the user experience online [2].

Search engines

Google is the first of the "Big Three" search engines to introduce personalized results on a massive scale. Weighing a number of factors including but not limited to user history, bookmarks, community behaviour and site click-through rate and stickiness, Google is providing results that are specific to what they believe you are searching for.

Currently this service is only available to those who are logged into their Google account [3][4] . has been the early adopter of personalization technology to recommend products to shoppers on its site, based upon their previous purchases. Amazon makes extensive use of Collaborative Filtering in its personalization technology.

Print media

In print media, ranging from magazines to promotional publications, personalization uses databases of individual recipients’ information. Not only does the written document address itself by name to the reader, but the advertising is targeted to the recipient’s demographics or interests using fields within the database, such as "first name", "last name", "company", etc.

The term "personalization" should not be confused with "variable data", which is a much more granular method of marketing that leverages both images and text with the medium, not just fields within a database. Although personalized children's books are created by companies who are using and leveraging all the strengths of Variable Data Printing. This allows for full image and text variability within a printed book.

Promotional merchandise

Promotional items industry (mugs, T-shirts, keychains, balls etc.) are regularly personalized. Personalized children’s storybooks — wherein the child becomes the protagonist, with the name and image of the child personalized — are also popular. Personalized CDs for children also exist. With the advent of digital printing, personalized calendars that start in any month, Birthday Cards, cards, e-cards, posters and Photo Book can also be obtained.

Mass personalization

Mass personalization is defined as custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users tastes and preferences [1]. The main difference between mass customization and mass personalization is that customization is the ability for a company to give its customers an opportunity to create and choose product to certain specifications, but does have limits [5].

Behavioral targeting represents a concept that is similar to mass personalization.

Advantages of personalization and mass customization

Here are the primary benefits of personalization to customers, with examples of each:

Save time: Eliminate repetitive tasks; remember transactional details; recognize habits and shorten the path to engage in such habits (example: frequently called numbers on a phone should automatically go into the phone’s memory).

Save money: Prevent redundant work (example: make it easier for employees and suppliers to know someone else has already solved the problem that they are currently facing); eliminate service components unnecessary to a customer; identify lower-cost solutions that meet all other specifications.

Better information: Provide training; filter out information not relevant to a person; provide more specific information that is increasingly relevant to a person’s interests; increase the reliability of information; replace “average” information with information specific to that person’s environment.

Address ongoing needs, challenges, or opportunities: Provide one-stop services; allow flexibility in work hours, job responsibilities, and benefits; accommodate unique personal preferences (example: allow employees to customize their office space, within certain boundaries); recognize and reward achievement with special treatment.

Personalization allows a company to tailor a specific product in accordance with individual standards, tastes and preferences. For example, baseball jerseys can be customized based on size, colour, team and logo, however there are a finite number of choices for these variables to choose. To personalize a jersey, a name or number can be administered to it as well as custom fitting.

The emergence of e-commerce has allowed for the personalization of clothing as well as the customization of audio CD’s and downloading of music as well as graphic design for personal websites from the comfort of one’s own home. Computer companies have been widely regarded as a market leader in made to order desktops or notebooks for high-performance and entertainment needs. Consumers are able to place orders based on product family, usage, price range, processor, and form factors. This customization ensures that each purchaser can view the merchandise available in order to make an informed decision.

Disadvantages to personalization

No matter how remarkable or laudable a company's efforts at personalization, there will always be some people who simply are not interested. Every firm must be prepared to recognize and instantly accommodate any of the motivating factors that would cause a person to decide he or she doesn't want any sort of personalization.

From an individual's perspective, there are numerous situations or attitudes that make personalization unwelcome.

Anonymity preferred. There are many reasons why people might not want to be identified, from the innocent - it's a birthday present they don't want their spouse to discover in advance on their credit card statement - to the unethical or illegal. Some people are simply private, and prefer to mind their own business and let others mind theirs. Others recognize the growing infringements on private space and choose to take the cautious route. A. Michael Froomkin, associate professor at the University of Miami School of Law, wrote, "Anonymity may be the primary tool available to citizens to combat the compilation and analysis of personal profile data, although data protection laws also may have some effect."

Lack of relevance. People do not want a relationship with companies that have no relevance to them. Computer programmers have no interest in getting to know an executive recruiter who only places sales executives. Homeowners who only buy the finest products for their home will not be interested in a cut-rate furniture store. If you've never been to Arkansas, never plan to go there, and don't know anyone there, you don't want to be on the mailing list of the Arkansas Tourism Board. On the Web, companies constantly ignore this factor and ask individuals for information before demonstrating to the person's satisfaction that their services are relevant. The prime example is companies that insist people fill out a lengthy form before they can gain access to a demo or to additional information. If a company asks people for information before it has demonstrated relevance, between 30 and 50 percent-depending on which statistics you believe-will lie to prevent revealing personal information.

Lack of credibility. If you don't trust a company, it becomes a relationship of last resort. Unless you have no choice, you don't want to deal with it. People don't need proof that a company deserves to be in this category. Often, a small suggestion that this might be the case is enough to justify caution.

Lack of security. Good intentions aren't enough. If a company fails to protect its assets, and those of its stakeholders, then people will not be willing to share anything of value with the firm. Security is like sausage making: the more you know about it, the less likely you are to be comfortable. People have real reasons to fear that today's centralized networks are not secure, because they frequently are not.

Technology firms are working to solve security problems, although most admit that security is a process, not a single technological solution. There are no quick fixes.

Impossible. Sometimes, people just aren't able to take advantage of attractive offers. If a company, local government, spouse, or neighborhood forbids a person from moving forward, that's life. Likewise, if people lack the ability to accept personalization-perhaps they lack a sophisticated enough cell phone, or a fast enough Web connection-it won't happen.

Infrequent contact. People will have little interest in establishing a relationship with a cab driver in a city they rarely visit, or with the company that installs their new septic system (a once-in-twenty-five-years event.) Companies get around this limitation by broadening their services to increase the frequency of contacts. Hewlett-Packard's printer division used to focus on selling printers; now the firm realizes it can make more money selling printer cartridges, as well as paper, and in the process increase the frequency of its interactions with customers.

Little value placed on potential benefits. People may not recognize the value in offered personalization, such as when firms offer to customize product offers. Many people don't want to receive any such offers, period. Employees who are offered personalized training may not value it if they were unimpressed with their previous experiences with the training unit, and thus believe that even personalization won't make the time invested worthwhile.

As companies move towards the personal - and the number of interactions increases - it's important to gain greater objectivity about the attractiveness of a firm's offers. Today, in the early stages of our shift towards increasingly personal business relationships, most personalization is still superficial, and way too much of it is mainly personalized marketing. No matter how targeted advertising becomes, it still won't be anything more than a means to an end, and too much of it is flat-out annoying. People tolerate occasional annoyances, but when annoyances multiply, they begin to reek of harassment.

Even highly attractive offers won't make a difference to a person who doesn't value the potential benefits. Think about a new knowledge management system that theoretically delivers "better" information by filtering out "less relevant" citations. Many researchers may cringe at the thought, because they succeed by looking at raw data and thus understanding at a deeper level the background and related elements of a given situation.

See also


  1. Personalization: Collaborative Filtering vs Prediction Based on Benefit Theory
  2. Bowen, J.P. and Filippini-Fantoni, S., Personalization and the Web from a Museum Perspective. In David Bearman and Jennifer Trant (eds.), Museums and the Web 2004: Selected Papers from an International Conference, Arlington, Virginia, USA, 31 March – 3 April 2004. Archives & Museum Informatics, pages 63–78, 2004.
  3. Sullivan, D., Google Ramps Up Personalized Search, 2 February 2007.
  4. Linden, G., Personalized Search Primer -- And Google's Approach, 7 August 2007.
  5. Haag et al., Management Information Systems for the Information Age, 3rd edition, 2006, page 331.

Kasanoff, B., Making It Personal: How to Profit from Personalization without Invading Privacy

External references

da:Personalisering de:Personalisierung (Informationstechnik) es:Personalización fr:Personnalisation nl:Personalisatie (informatica) ja:パーソナライゼーション sr:Персонализација sv:Personalisering

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