Content personalization still has a long way to go

Two companies who are leading the way on personalized digital magazines agree that we haven’t yet come close to unlocking the power of true personalized content yet.

At paidContent Live 2013 Wednesday, Prismatic co-founder and CTO Aria Haghighi said those in the business of helping readers discover new content can’t even agree on a definition yet. “We don’t all agree on what personalization means. I agree (that it means pointing you to) stuff you care about … some people think it’s only getting signal from noise,” he said. “I think we’re really early. I don’t think we’ve matured to point where we (the industry) have philosophical differences yet.”

Mark Johnson, who is CEO of competing product Zite, agreed that there’s so much more to do. “We’re good at finding stuff, but we can be so much better. We haven’t had that Google moment yet that’s, ‘Aha! That’s what personalization is.'” He compared it to when AltaVista users turned to early Google search and said, “So that’s what search is!”

That point of personalizing reading content for users is also the challenge: everyone’s feed will always be different because no one likes the same stuff. Improving that capability will depend on big factors that haven’t quite been figured out yet either: the social aspect and helping people understand why content is recommended to them.

Both Prismatic and Zite agree that helping users understand why you’re showing them content is key: “Even if you do world’s best job recommending an article or content to people, if they don’t have an explanation of why, people feel uneasy,” said Haghighi. “You have surface parts of the system to give information to people. That’s where user response intersects with AI.”

Part of recommendation is social — what your friends or people with your same interests liked — but no one has done a good job of that in their industry yet, Johnson thinks. Social “sharing is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There’s something deeper you can do in these applications that no one has nailed yet.”

Check out the rest of our paidContent Live 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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A transcription of the video follows on the next page