Friday, July 17, 2009

Personalisation vs. Social

I've been thinking of this personalisation-thing a lot lately. I quite cannot get my head around it, so this blog post is just to mull over the ideas.

By personalisation it is meant that, for example on a learning resource portal, the offer is tailor made for one of the users of the system. There are three commonly known ways of doing this:
  1. Based on self-proclaimed profile (e.g. you say you teach math, so your services are personlised towards math)
  2. Based on collaborative filtering e.g. ratings (like-minded users, ppl who agree in the past tend to agree in the future) or content-based filtering
  3. Based on behaviour (e.g. other teachers who used this resource, also used xx)
In the cases 1 and 2, the idea is that there is a profile for you, whereas no: 3 can be used for any user (e.g. this is what Amazon does for any user regardless if they are logged in or not). With the first two cases, we can state that this type of personalisation is often cumbersome and labour-intensive, the problem is how to get that information from users (which creates cold start problem for users, and is also related to cold start problem of resources).

Also, not all the users are always interested in doing the work of filling in a profile or rating resources. In one of my studies (Vuorikari, Sillaots, Panzavolta, Koper, 2009) we found very different types of users behaviour, in this case related to how ppl tag (which could be also used for collaborative filtering).

About 33% of ppl tagged content (the arrows going away from the user group in the image), 32% used tags for searching but did not tag themselves (the arrows going towards a user), whereas 35% of ppl did not tag nor used tags at all (in the image the arrow going from LOM towards the group indicating that they used LOM based search methods only).

In this case, I'm interested in the 32% group, who clearly got benefit from tagging that other folks did, but did not do any work themselves (kinda freeriders, if you wish, but I don't mean to be negative).

If we were to use the tagging and bookmarking information to construct a user profile of the users and further use it for personalisation (no: 1 and 2 in the list above), we would be only able to do it for the group of taggers, i.e. 33%. The benefits could only be reaped by that group too, since for the rest of them, we have no profiling information to be used for personalisation.

However, a social tagging system is more about creating "personalisation" for all the users of the system, regardless if we know anything about them and they are willing to put in the time to create a profile and feed it in. It's about making social navigation trails visible to every user of the system, instead of going for "personalisation".

What I think is really cool is that we've shown that we more than doubled the amount of ppl who took advantage of contributions, i.e. from 27% who tag and use tags for navigation to 59% (that is adding the group of 32% who use tags but don't tag).

My assumption is that the rest would not even care about recommendations, etc., as they seem to formulate their searches in a rather acknowledgble way (40% formulate advanced searches; 38% only browse categories and 30% do both).

Some other thoughts about personalisation:

  • There are things that I dig, like Amazon, when it tells me "ppl who bought this book also bought xx". Thing thing is, though, that is the stuff that generally makes any user's life better on Amazon. It is not that they personalise the thing for me only, the unique Riina, the one and only, but it is something that makes any users experience on Amazon better.

  • the problem with personalisation often is that there needs to be a detailed profile of you that is based on detailed user model that is based on some abstract model that some obscure committee came out with in the 70's. Ok, that's maybe a bit exaggerated, but you get the point - there is a model where you are fitted.

  • What if I don't want to be personalised? What if I want to do the same thing as my buddies do; listen to same music as they do, study the same stuff as they do and go shopping with them? I want to share my life and experiences with other people around me because, guess what, through that type of sharing and doing stuff together, I feel related to them, I have things to talk with them and we form a community together. And it is really important for me to be part of that community, because it's part of who I am and helps me to reflect on what's out there.

  • Is peronalisation really personalised? It's not actually. By making things personalised to me, what is actually happening is "un-personlisation" of me. My taste is guided to the direction of all the other users, so I am actually being socialised! My personal music recommendations are actually very similar to other listeners, and eventually, it's all going to be the same taste!! Of course, unless there is randomness which offers serendipity.

  • Lately with all these micro-messaging things where ppl post their "mood" or what they are doing online ( e.g. I should be tweeting right now: "I'm writing a blog post" and simultaneously have it up on my Facebook), it's kinda funny that they feel this urge to yell out to all what they are doing in their ├╝ber-personlised world.

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