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So Much Information, So Little Relevance

By Steve Johnson
August 2, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Internet places a vast universe of information at consumers' fingertips. While there are, of course, tremendous advantages to this, there are disadvantages as well. The primary one is that today's online consumers are simply overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to deal with -- the majority of which is often irrelevant to their needs and interests.
Search engines present consumers with thousands, even millions, of results with little connection to the underlying needs that triggered the searches in the first place. Retail sites deliver pages and pages of poorly sorted product listings, forcing consumers to wade through them to find what they need. The result of this unfiltered flood of information is consumers surrounded by content they don't really care about, creating a frustrating online experience -- and one that fails to generate the maximum possible product purchases, content or ad clicks, and return visits.
Improving the online experience requires changing the way sites and services approach online content. To achieve this, sites and services are revisiting content personalization -- a concept that suffered from a backlash several years ago as first-generation technologies failed to deliver on their promises but which is now undergoing something of a renaissance.
Why Now for Personalization?
Online giants such as Yahoo, America Online and Google are touting a renewed focus on personalization, and electronic retailers such as Amazon.com have also improved the user experience in this area. One key reason for this personalization renaissance is the maturation of the online marketplace. In this environment, companies are more focused on satisfying existing customers and deriving greater value from each relationship than on acquiring new customers. Increasingly, online sites and services are using personalization to invigorate their retention efforts and help them differentiate themselves from their competition.
Another factor driving this renewed interest in personalization is coming from consumers themselves. Without effective ways to filter Internet content, consumers are discovering that more isn't necessarily better. Consumers value personalization as a means to helping them deal with information overload and are beginning to expect personalization as part of a Web site's core services, with 78% viewing personalization as a "critical" or "very important" aspect of the sites they visit, according to a recent survey conducted by ChoiceStream Inc.
Early Approaches to Online Personalization
It's clearly in the best interests of consumers and online businesses alike to surround consumers with the content and products most meaningful and useful to them. The question is, What's the best way to do this?
In the late '90s, technology vendors pushed personalization as the way to improve



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