I am not my friends

Personalisation is the big trend. Your window on to the internet will be different from mine – if not now, soon. This has been happening for years, but the momentum is increasing – especially with the rapid growth of social media. Companies are able to learn more about you than ever and the new dimension is in your associations.

When I search on Google, I will see results based on my location, my previous searches and now Google has integrated my “friends” from Google+ to show me results that they think would be relevant based on what other people I “know” may or may not have found useful. You and I see different search results – already.

Bing recently introduced a social element so that if I search for a destination like Las Vegas, it will show me friends who have been to Las Vegas, their photos, and so on.

TiVo, on the other hand, learns my interests. I tell it what I like. It remembers what I record. And then based on these two elements, it makes suggestions for other tv shows that I might like – even pre-recording them for me just in case.

There’s an iPad app that I use called Zite – it works in a similar way to TiVo in that I tell it my interests and then approve or reject pages/content that it gives me. Over time, it will present more topics that I am ‘interested in’.

As you can see, there are two types of personalisation – the type that is based on my own true preferences and the type that is based on others within my “social graph”. The argument for the latter is that you and your “friends” will have common interests, similar backgrounds, similar ideologies and perhaps even similar buying habits.

I find this assertion ridiculous for a number of reasons.

1. Social networks are built around common interests, but frequently that is as far as the similarities go. Google+ does not contain my close circle of friends exclusively – far from it. This is the case for Twitter too of course; and LinkedIn. These three networks are primarily professional for me. They are mostly “weak ties” as Malcolm Gladwell refers to them. I have had great conversations with people on all three networks – but to assume that we have shared interests beyond a very limited set is absurd. To filter my view of the world, based on the preferences of these networks would be incredibly frustrating.

2. I am not my friends. Facebook contains most of my ‘strong ties’ – my closest friends and family. But even then, we are all different – our polictical views are different, our hobbies and interests are different; but that’s what makes our friendships so great I think.

Naturally, there are some areas where recommendations are less about points of view and interests and more about local knowledge – if I was visiting a town for the first time, I would ask my friends in that area to recommend a restaurant. But I think you need to take this sort of recommendation out of the equation as this is only part of what is in the pipeline for the internet of the future.

I don’t want my world to be shaped by the views of others – I get enough of that in the real world. I want to have control over that view, more like TiVo.. allow me to propose topics that interest me and then provide me with a big ‘relevant’ thumbs up button on what I am being shown.

I also want the chance for serendipity. I enjoy being exposed to different views and topics that I never knew interested me until I was introduced to them for the first time. Please don’t take this away from me, shouldn’t this be a protected human right somewhere?

Most of all, please remember that I am not my friends, and they are not me either.



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