The Challenges of Personalization May 27, 2011Posted by reto wettach in innovative interfaces, learning, making the invisible visible, service design, social computing.
As one of my MA students is currently looking into a more immersive experience of Twitter we had a discussion on the danger of personalization.
Jacob Nielsen already wrote 1998 that “personalization is over-rated“: “Having the computer personalize the website to the user assumes that the computer can guess the user’s needs. This is difficult to do and even more difficult when you consider that the same person may have different desires at different times. It is annoying to have the computer try to be smarter than it really is and second-guess your needs, only to have to spend extra time to correct it when it gets it wrong. ”
In 1998, at least we were thinking that the user could correct the computer – this is not true anymore!
Eli Pariser talks in his inspiring TED talk about the impact of personalized contents: he mentions the danger of the “algorithmic editing of the web” as google and facebook, but also news portals or shopping sites are doing it:
According to Eli, even if one is not logged in in any Google service, there are 57 signals, which are interpreted by the search engine, such as where you are or what computer you are using.
He calls this phenomena a “filter bubble”, “your own personal unique universe of information”. And he shows that currently this filter bubble is based on your direct , quite impulsive interests (“what you click on first”) and not offering a “balanced information diet”.
What I like in his talk, is that Eli is pointing out that this very personalized experience of the web is not visible – a great challenge for us interaction designers, I would say! He is requesting not only transparency, but also control, so that “we can decide what gets through and what doesn’t”.
Henry Lieberman, researcher with the MIT, comes to similar conclusion when talking about the “Challenges in HCI Design for AI Applications“: “the underlying complexity of AI algorithms means that interface design needs to pay special attention to transparency and explanation. Since complex algorithms might indeed be “smarter than the user” (and therein may lie their value), both the programs and their users may need to invest some effort in communication about what the program does and how it can be of service to its users.” (2009)
Interesting challenges for interaction designers!