© freelance tekstforfatter Christian Nevado

Personalization - an explanation of the term

Personalization has become a buzzword that is heard with increasing frequency in connection with the Internet. The Internet technology has always been associated with a higher degree of personalization of information, messages and marketing, but the term has become increasingly important because the technological development has made it easier to personalize web pages.

The problem is that the term is typically interpreted one-dimensionally, as something you can have more or less of, and the more you have, the better. Personalization has become equivalent with a modern and 'hip' web page. If you don't have personalization technology on your web page, you are hopelessly outdated and do not understand how to exploit the full potential of the Internet.

The development on the Internet is undoubtedly going towards an increasing degree of personalization, but it is not necessarily the case that the web pages investing the most in personalization technology and using the most advanced techniques are also the most successful in relation with the customers.

The personalization of web pages is not about the degree of personalization, but about whether the personalization technology used is effective and relevant to the users of the web page. A simple web page that understands its users and manages to present relevant contents to the various user segments can be just as efficient as amazon.com, which has invested millions of dollars in the most advanced personalization techniques.

When you consider the implementation of personalization on your web page, it is important not to mindlessly invest in technologies that in the long run prove to be superfluous. The personalization of a web page begins with your analyzing the users' needs and wishes, and on that basis developing the web page so that it supports the users' feeling that the page is addressing them specifically. Personalization is not so much a question of technology as of the ideal connection between the individual needs of the users and the commercial purposes of the web page.

To optimize the personalization of a web page, you must understand the possibilities you have of customizing the presentation of the contents or products to your users. The following describes the four different types of personalization that are relevant in this connection:

*    Interactive elements
*    Customization (tick-in-a-box personalization)
*    Rule-based personalization
*    Collaborative filtering

Though you can not talk about actual degrees of personalization, this categorization still contains an element of priority, so that in moving from one to four you move towards a higher degree of 1:1 personalization and typically also towards a significantly higher budget for the implementing of technologies.

Interactive elements

The weakest degree of personalization, which nevertheless can still be quite popular with the web page users, is interactive elements that react differently depending on the input from the users.

Interactive elements include such functionalities as games and calculations, where the functionality is the same for all users, but where the result and the outcome depend on the input from the user.

Games at www.sol.dk

Pension calculation at www.unibank.dk

Interactive elements are considered a weak degree of personalization because nothing in the functions makes the users feel particularly attached to the web page. In calculation functions, the users get personal and relevant information, but they might as well use the calculation function of another web page, if it worked just as user-friendly.

Interactive elements do not remember the users' input from each visit, and thus the web site does not become more personal after the user has employed the interactive element.

When are interactive elements relevant?

The advantage of interactive elements is that they provide quick feedback to the users, who do not need to invest much time or many resources. Interactive elements are thus well suited to catch the users' attention and call attention to the fact that the web page does a bit more for its users. But because interactive elements typically do not recall the users' preferences, they are unsuited to create a feeling of loyalty to and connection with the web page.

Interactive elements can nevertheless still be implemented to achieve different degrees of personalization. For example, calculating functions can be integrated with user information that the web page already possesses. Naturally, this is primarily relevant in connection with web pages, which are already in possession of much information about the users. If you use such information, you can save the users both keyboard time and information searching and heighten the quality of the calculations, and thus increase the users' feeling that the calculations are customized.

You can also increase the degree of personalization for calculating functions by making them more extensive as well as targeted towards specific user segments. A function that calculates budget plans for students, housewives or pensioners is an example where the users typically key in very detailed information and receive computations, which are customized to their present life styles. Such computing functions often work best if they memorize the user's input, so the user continuously can update the information.

The more advanced these 'memorizing' interactive elements become, the more they remind of the next category of personalization strategies: customization.


Customization - also known as tick-in-a-box personalization - is the most visible kind of personalization, and it is also this type that most people typically connect with personalization.

Customization is basically about the users defining their own needs, wishes and preferences, and based on this the web page itself customizes the contents and the presentation of it on the page. Typically, customization is done by the user clicking on different elements present on the web page - thus the expression 'tick-in-a-box personalization'. However, the HTML-based check box customization is becoming increasingly challenged by more visually intuitive drag-and-drop applications.

In the customized personalization, you save the users' preferences so that the personalized web page is the same when the user returns to the page. In customization of the purest kind, the users' information is not used for more advanced analyses and prognoses of the users' preferences. You simply present the information and the products that the users have selected. If you use the customization information for more sophisticated analyses, you typically call it rule-based personalization or collaborative filtering.

Customized personalization can be practiced in various different ways, depending on the character of the web page. There are four main categories, which are popular on the Internet today:

My page

The point of a "my page" concept is that the user creates his own page with all the information that he or she typically needs when visiting the Internet. The strategic purpose is that the user employs this page as a starting page for Internet visits, which results in a maximum number of re-visits and loyalty to the web page in question.

"My page" concepts are mostly used by portals, which already has so many agreements with information distributors that it makes sense to the user to create a personal page containing news, stock ratings, weather forecasts, search functions etc.

A classical example of a "my page" concept is Yahoo's "My Yahoo", where the user can build his own personal page using Yahoos wide range of collaborators.

My Yahoo page

In Yahoo's case, not much attention is paid to the graphical impression and the way the page is presented. As the development of browsers and plug-ins makes it possible to create more advanced interfaces, you begin to see a tendency towards "my page" concepts becoming more drag-and-drop oriented. Instead of the users clicking back and forth and crossing off boxes, they can visually drag information and place it where they want it on their personal page.

An example of this is Framfabs "Brikks", which is a customized "my page" concept that works equally well in WAP, ordinary Internet and the wide-band Internet of the future. In "Brikks" you simply create your own page by dragging and dropping the information and the functions, which the Internet or WAP portal in question can offer.

Configuration page on a Brikks portal

When are "my page" concepts relevant?

A "my page" concept demands a lot of the users as well as of the web page. The users must be willing to invest some time in customizing the page, and they also have to actively choose to make the page their starting page. On the other hand, the web page must offer enough information or have enough collaborators for the user to see the point of making this exact page his or her starting page. If there is not enough relevant information for the user, it is just not worth the effort to spend time customizing a "my page". In many cases it is easier for the user to find his or her own favorite Internet pages and add them to the list of "favorites".

A "my page" concept in its purest form is not recommendable to others than very large portals with a great number of visits and an extensive network of collaborators.

My information

A more modest version of the "my page" concept is web pages where the users can choose to get a certain selection presented of the information that is present on the page. The purpose here is not that user necessarily makes the pages his or her starting page, but rather that the user saves time on the web page because he or she can get to the relevant products or information faster.

Contrary to the pure "my page" concept where you expect the users to make the page their staring page, the users' motivation for returning is based on the page's ability to present information that is more relevant and targeted than other web pages. When the users have invested time in personalizing parts of a web page, and when they can see that the investment of time has resulted in a page that is more relevant to them, they will also be less prone to choose other web pages in their search for information.

A classical example will of course be news pages, where the users can choose news of particular interest to them. The users save time because they don't have to browse through all the superfluous news to find exactly the news that interests them.

LA Times - a customizable Internet newspaper

When are "my information" concepts relevant?

News pages are not the only example of relevant "my information" concepts. Generally speaking, the "my information" concept is relevant to all web pages that offer large amounts of specialized information or information which is updated often.

The "my information" concept is well suited to extract large amounts of information into exactly what the user wants, and it is well suited to gather information from different places on the website into one well-arranged page.

On the basis of this definition, "my information" concepts are more or less relevant to most of the existing commercial and public web sites. You should, however, be aware that "my information" concepts are not always relevant to the users, who are therefore not willing to invest time customizing. In many cases it is easier for the users to click forward to the relevant pages than to spend time understanding a more or less complicated customisation procedure.

Personalized information is a powerful tool for creating user loyalty, but if the web page does not contain large amounts of information, or if the contents are rarely updated, there is not much point investing resources in customisation.