Socially personal or personally social

In preparation for this event, during it and since, I have been pondering personalisation. It is a beguiling topic. At first glance, a personal experience is obviously desirable. Who would deny a tailored experience or bespoke content? Simple, yes?

Robin Hoyle was quick (and correct) to puncture that oversimplification in his talk. He laid out the risks of assumed interest and preferences from Amazon and similar businesses. The blindness of the algorithm is a real hurdle to overcome when it recommends sewing equipment to me from a shared account or a children’s story from purchased for a visiting relative. (Although I suspect that this will not be a limiting factor for too long as machine intelligence develops at pace).

Robin and I both explored the impact of social media on personalisation. There appears to be a powerful commercial and consumer logic to recommending and serving targeted content based on the behaviour and preferences of your chosen networks. This is a good advertising model (as the financial performance of Facebook will attest) and therefore a good good targeting model. Is it personalised though? Perhaps it is a more sophisticated segmentation than previous data permitted. My own experience suggests there is still insufficient ad inventory to overcame the spammy feel of many campaigns. My single shoe purchase does not qualify me as a lead for the whole of the fashion category (are you listening Facebook?). Robin also pointed out the filter bubble problem, with our social groups tending to affirm, support and recycle preferences. It is hard to work in serendipity here or to inject challenge and alternative perspectives. Both of these are needed for solid learning and reflection I reckon.

Personalisation is social now…

Nevertheless, I do think that social networks have started to dictate what we see as personally meaningful in significant ways. When I claimed (perhaps with a glib conference tone) that “personalisation is social now” what I was driving at is our increasingly social judgements about relevance. A fundamental reason for the success of these tools is that they allow us to define, as individuals, the presentation of relevant content. We like, follow, friend and tag based on our own needs and preferences. We are becoming the editors of our own content streams, pulling and ejecting, at the swipe of a thumb, what we class as interesting and useful. Our expectation is that these social channels create a personalised experience as we use them and that this experience becomes more powerful and sophisticated. As usual, this has become the default expectation very quickly and we need to respond to it.

Behaviour in these networks has also started to challenge to idea that content should be consumed from, or in, destinations (or, god forbid, “portals”). We all now anticipate that articles, video, games, apps and audio etc. are presented for use directly in our social feeds. As content providers, accurate distribution into these networks is now a first order of business. Our users expect to stay where they are and do their business on their terms in those tools. We need to find ways to make learning content available for them in this native environment.

Whilst a simple point, this is not a simple task. Much of the effort of learning content producers is to publish into portals and central systems and entice our audience to those destinations. Whilst we still manage those destinations as a central resource they need to be a destination not the destination. The true destination is wherever are users decide to spend their time. Time to explore this territory as well.

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