You know those awkward moments when you meet someone you know, but you just can’t quite remember their name? And then, briefly, you think the name is coming to you, and then, quick as it almost came to you, it vapourises and you know you’re toast… And of course we’ve all been on the other side of that as well, when people we think – we hope! – will remember us, and really they didn’t. It’s not nice. That translates of course into Commerce. Airlines try hard to welcome people by name, especially frequent fliers. Telcos make a point of mentioning your name when you call their call center. Hotels train their staff to refer to guests by name. It’s personal, it’s nice, it’s warm. We like it. We equate it with good service.
It’s particularly impressive when you have no idea who these people are (as opposed to walking into your local Chinese restaurant that you go to regularly), and the default view is – hey, these guys really worked hard to deliver to me a personalised experience – even if sometimes you just wonder a little how they knew your name.
Now. think about that on a web site. You go to a web page that you’ve never been to before, and it knows stuff about you. How is that possible? How do they know? What else do they know? Paranoia kicks in. You start to wonder whether these guys are monitoring you, following you. Data protection regulators and Privacy Tsars in governments detect this and start sounding off about customer protections, and identity protection, and privacy and civil rights. If a human knows – that’s ok. But if the machine knows, well that’s a whole other thing.
So Google and a bunch of other webcos have finally said that they will support a “Do Not Track” button on browsers. This won’t stop everything though. While if a user clicks this new “Do Not Track” button, the website will not be able to use user data to customize ads, they can still use it in “product development”, which, with the right amount of statistical abstraction and algorithm cleverness, will do the same thing. Here’s the point – Commercial Radio stations for seventy years or more have been tailoring their business to be more and more and more and more accurate in terms of designing “product” for the purposes of advertising. As result, based on product design, they can tell to a 95% degree of accuracy who’s listening in any 15 minute segment. This is completely untethered from the customer, that is, we’re not tracking the customer in real time, but we know who’s there.
Maybe this will mean we don’t remember your name, but we’ll still know exactly how to match you with an advertiser, or a commercial partner that can allow web economics to function just as well as they always did. So the experience becomes not one that is personalised – because for a machine to get personal is just too freaky, it seems – but the experience becomes astonishingly relevant and useful. And that’s something I think we’d all appreciate.