The interior of a Loblaws supermarket in Toronto

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I was recently at a talk given by David Perlmutter, author of “Blogwars,” and he had a new insight that left me pondering its implications. Essentially, he stated that while online environments are becoming more personalized, real-world environments are becoming more depersonalized.

The move to more personalized and interactive environments online seems destined to have dramatic implications for offline ventures, if only because it may mean more rapid abandonment of them.

In order to survive, offline spaces may have to become more personalized or risk falling into obscurity and disuse, transforming themselves into something out of Minority Report,

Is it possible? Some offline interactions are already somewhat personalized, with the coupon machines at supermarkets coming to mind. They generate coupons based on what you’ve just purchased or have purchased in the past. Supermarkets are also experimenting with handheld scanners that know where you are in the store and, based on your purchasing trends, can point out sales and items relevant to you as you wander the aisles.

Some sports retailers have gotten into the picture, with special fitting systems for bike saddles and cycling shoes, one pair having an insole that is heated to conform to your foot. Nike has a line of customized shoes, and a very cool way of building up your own.

Yet, customized isn’t personalized, which is both individual and anticipatory. We will have to transmit our ID at all times for true real-world personlization to happen. Is this far off? It’s already been attempted, with Broadcast Bluetooth (in the UK) and DialPlus (a startup that uses caller ID to grab associated Web content and deliver it to your phone while you talk) as possible, but early, examples.

As users become more accustomed to personalized online experiences, offline experiences will be forced by consumer preference to follow, and the path will be leveled as digital, networked communications become more and more integrated into everyday life.

Get ready to feel less depersonalized in the real world.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


1 Thought on "(De)personalized"

Back in the old days, this RW personalization did not have a formal name or definition. Once things really started to become depersonalized, it was called “customer service.”

The guy at the hardware store knew you by name, knew what you were working on, suggested a new, relevant product that just came in, and might have even dropped by to see how you were getting along.

“Hey Kent, I hear you’re trying to take down that old tree in your yard. We just got in this new chainsaw…”

The lady at the grocery store knew you too, asked about the kids, and gave you a heads up on what would be going on sale in the coming week.

“Oh Janice, your litte Kent is growing up… You don’t want to get your Thanksgiving turkey this week. Don’t tell the manager, but they will be .50 a pound next week.”

Even tellers at the bank knew you by name and didn’t need to verify your identity with a photo ID, signature checking software, a pin number or a username and password.

“Hi Mr. Miller, how are you?

The same probably could have been said for librarians who knew their patrons by name, knew what they liked reading, knew what they had in house, and then made recommendations.

“Kent we just got in the latest book in that series you’ve been reading.”

The list goes on. To me the real question is What does this say about our humanity when we need machines to do this?

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