Personalisation

Greg Linden writes:

We are overwhelmed by all the information coming at us in our daily lives. We need something that makes sense of the chaos, that orders and filters the information streams.

Personalization must be part of this vision. Search can help you find things when you already know what you want; personalization helps surface useful information when you don’t already know what you want.

Personalization offers a way to find focus. It learns what you like, shows you what you want to see, and filters out the rest. It extracts knowledge from the information chaos and helps you get the information you need.

Google Fusion

A little old, but still good reading. Charlene Li writes about Google’s personalised home page:

Why is Google doing this? Is this a concession to the strength of portal competitors? To a great degree, yes. Of the people who use Google most frequently to search the Interent, only 17% also have Google as their default home page compare that to 72% that use MSN for search and also have it as their home page (more details are here available only to Forrester subscribers). google users The biggest advantage that Yahoo and MSN (and yes, AOL) have is that they each have tens of millions of registered users. This is important if these sites want to be able to provide differentiated services to their users. In the end, its all about loyalty and offering a better service thanks to personalized services will the differentiator.

Heres an example. Today, if I type in a search for cruise vacation I would get the same results as you would . But with the advent of My Search History from Google and personalized search initiatives from Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves, the game appears to be to sign up users whom the search engines can then mine for data to provide a better search experience. Google is clearly behind and needs to step up their efforts to sign up users hence the launch of the personalized home page. Google is very behind in terms of default home page share and it hopes to remedy this situation quickly (stats on default home page and search loyalty are available only to Forrester clients.)

But why would people give up a rich interface like Yahoo, MSN, or AOL for Google? I believe that only Google loyalists will do so. You can recognized them they talk about how they used Google to solve gnarly problems and gross on and on about Gmail. But for the rest of us, well need to be convinced that it makes sense.

I think that day will come when Google not only offers RSS-enabled content (its an interesting change of pace to see Google chasing the industry leaders for a change) but also uses intelligence gathered from watching registered users behaviors. For example, if I subscribe to a feed of Canadian news in Google news, but only read articles about Montreal and always ignore news from Vancouver, then the service would push forward Montreal news and de-emphasize (or even not show) articles about Vancouver.

Needed: information dashboards.

Sparklines

Anil Dash writes about Sparklines – “intense, simple, wordlike graphics”, pioneered by Edward Tufte.

Tufte defines Sparklines as “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”, but I think the “word-sized” part of that definition is probably overly restrictive. More important is the idea that graphics have a very high representational value that’s sustained even if the reader doesn’t absorb 100% of the data being presented. I don’t have to know the meaning of every data point if the overall graphic communicates the point the author is trying to make.

In short, they’re data-dense but somewhat deliberately opaque about the data sources which informed their creation. The liberating constraint placed on the graphics is that it’d be impossible to provide a key detailing each item in the space provided, so the reader is freed from the burden of having to know what each point means: All forest, no trees.

Sparklines would be good for use on mobiles given the limited display area that is available.

Universal Inbox

Dare Obasanjo writes:

It looks like Bloglines is evolving into MyYahoo! or MyMSN which already provide a way to get customized personal information from local news and weather reports to RSS feeds and email inboxes.

I’ve been pitching the concept of the digital information hub to folks at work but I think the term ‘universal inbox” is a more attractive term. As a user spends more and more time in front of an information consumption tool be it an email reader, RSS reader or online portal, the more data sources the user wants supported by the tool. Online portals are now supporting RSS. Web-based RSS readers are now supporting content that would traditionally show up in a personalized view at an online portal.

At MSN, specifically with http://www.start.com/2/, we are exploring what would happen if you completely blurred the lines between a web-based RSS reader and the traditional personalized dashboard provided by an online portal. It is inevitable that both mechanisms of consuming information online will eventually be merged in some way.

New York Times Dashboards

David Weinberger writes:

…starting in April, NYTimes.com is going to publish thousands of topic pages, each aggregating the content from the 10 million articles in its archive, going back to 1851, including graphics and multimedia resources. [NOTE: They are not opening their archive. The content will likely be descriptions created for the Times Index; you’ll still have to pay to see articles in the archive.] Topics that get their own page might include Boston, Terrorism, Cloning, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Condoleeza Rice. News stories will link to these topic pages. And the Times must hope these pages, with their big fat permanent addresses, may start rising in Google’s rankings.

I think this may bring about two crises (“crisis” in the old sense of crossroads):

First, if the topic pages don’t give away enough information, if they have too many enticing links that make us pay $2.95 to retrieve the article, they will position The Times as a hoarder rather than as an authority; initially, they are thinking about publishing the summaries written for The Times Index, not the archived articles themselves.* It’s crucial to our trust in newspapers that we feel they are on our side, working to make us all better informed; it will be a sad day for the mainstream media when we lose that sense.

Second, the first comparison we’re all going to make is to the Wikipedia page on the same topic. My guess is that, while nothing can duplicate The Times’ 150 years of cultural artifacts if they’re made freely available*, we’re going to find the Wikipedia page more useful, more current, more neutral, and more linked into the Web. If we don’t, we’ll edit the Wikipedia page until it’s better. And then we’ll link it to the NYTimes.com topic page. In this head-on comparison between what the best of the closed systems can do with what the newest of the open systems comes up with, you’ll hear the groan of the hawser as the ship of trust changes berths.

Personal Media Aggregator

Robin Good writes: “Personal Media Aggregators are the road to create instant-vertical-communities by way of becoming fulcrum points around which news, commentary, discussion, and networking opportunities around a very specific topic, brand, celebrity or writer can become a cohesive aggregating force.”

Personalised Information Streams

Greg Linden posts an excerpt from a talk by John Doerr: “Maybe we’ll get to 3 billion people on the web and say that what matters to all of us is information, and products, and more. Which is we live in time and we’re assaulted by events. And, so, let’s just say there’s 3 billion events going on at any given time. And if you wanted to compute the cross product of the 3 billion people and the 3 billion events — ’cause you need to filter very carefully the information that’s going to get to this device — I don’t want to be assaulted by anything but the most relevant information …”

Greg adds: John Doerr is talking about personalized information streams, personalized filtering of information about events. John’s saying, show me the relevant news, interesting new products, and useful new documents I need to see. Surface the events that matter to me.

Newsmap

[via Greg Linden] Mike Davidson writes about Newsmap: [It] is a visual representation of whats going on in the world as aggregated by Google News and visualized by Marcos Weskamp. It may appear confusing at first, because it is. Its clearly not smart enough to derive meaning and importance from news based on our own preferences, but its a step in the right direction. It illustrates the fluidity with which will can manipulate information on a page. It demonstrates how what will eventually be web services from Google can be displayed in the most non-Googlelike manner possible. Sure, right now Newsmap does all sorts of weird and counterproductive things to headlines like rotate them 90 degrees and squeeze them into an unreadable space, but what if this was a sane layout which metamorphosed productively as news arrived and your viewing habits were keening observed? What if, knowing Im a huge Survivor fan, Newsmap always bumped Survivor-related news above other, less relevant news? What if Newsmap wasnt a webpage at all and acted as my screensaver instead? It would be gangbusters to run Newsmap run as a screensaver and then be able to activate it by simply moving my mouse to a certain corner of the screen.”

Mike adds: “The key to our information gathering lives is all about smart aggregation. The days of media companies deciding whats on your front page are numbered. Within five years, I believe customizable newsreader technology (whether client-side like Net News Wire, or server-side like Bloglines), will be as prevalent as the web is right now. The web will still be there for viewing entire bodies of content like full stories and video, but the web will not be the notification source that this content is available. Instead, it will be simple aggregators like we have today, and then eventually, creative ones like Newsmap albeit in a much more effective form.”

KnowNow’s RSS Management Plan

CRN has an interview with Michael Terner, CEO of KnowNow. Excerpts:

We put in an RSS solution for ING, one of the largest banks in Europe, that allows them to utilize, manage and control RSS within their corporation. They have over 100,000 employees, and they’ve been using IBM WebSphere portal to distribute information to employees. They also have news feeds they wanted to distribute to employees through the portal. You can get a portlet from IBM for RSS, but today it only handles one feed. Of course, they wanted it to be able to handle multiple feeds, and they didn’t want to install code on the client. Finally, it also helps them address a key problem that is emerging from the deployment of RSS. With users doing updates every hour or every four hours, you’re bombarding the infrastructure internally. With our server, we deliver information only when there’s new information. It eliminates all of the pulling requests. KnowNow remembers who you are and what you’re interested in and keeps the link open in such a way that there’s no traffic on the lines. It’s a publish-and-subscribe model.

You can build an application that doesn’t require software to be installed. E-mail and Excel are an integration problem that hasn’t been resolved yet. We built an application that is on our Web site that looks like an RSS reader. We set that thing up so the headers change color as it ages. Because we have a publish-and-subscribe model, management can view activity such as responses to incoming calls by simply being a master subscriber. It requires good business partners to be able to build these applications, but it doesn’t require a complex application developer because there’s no client code to install and most of the work of getting the information moved around is being done by the system. In many ways, this allows you to treat the data sources as a service for the client, whether it has software running on it or not. So you enable that whole software-as-a-service model.

Desktop Dashboard

Technology Rewview writes: “These days, finding information on the Web can be easier than finding it on your computer’s hard drive. But Nat Friedman, a software engineer and open-source-programming guru in Cambridge, MA, is leading an effort to change that with a free program called Dashboard. Dashboard constantly combs through your e-mail, calendar, address book, word-processing, and browser programs and brings together information related to your current tasks before you even know you want it. Say you%u2019re reading an e-mail from a collaborator on a project. Dashboard automatically shows the person’s contact information, her last five e-mails, and your upcoming appointments with her. Programs like Microsoft’s Longhorn will have similar functions but are years from completion. Friedman, cofounder of open-source desktop software maker Ximian, which was acquired by Novell last August, says Dashboard will be ready as early as this summer.”