Sep 302010

One day after Google CEO Eric Schmidt touted autonomous search
as a serendipity engine where information comes to users instead of tracking
them down, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said the future of media will be

Schmidt’s and Sandberg’s points are that computers and the
software that empower them are getting smart enough to tailor content for users
based on a number of signals, including tastes for food, entertainment
activities and other personal preferences.

For example, where users search frequently for pizza from
their computers and smartphones, Google makes the most relevant results bubble
up for that user, refining them based on location. That’s happening now thanks
to personalized search and Google’s location database software.  

In the future, Schmidt said a user walking down the
street in New York may find his or her phone pinged with information about places
they pass. If these alerts are based on the pizza lover’s preferences, results
will no doubt include local pizza parlors.

Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray noted that while what Schmidt described
Sept. 28 at TechCrunch Disruptthat search engines will push content to
users based on their personal preferencessounds like science fiction, the
opportunities to “improve human discovery are very real.” 

In Ray’s example, a person who rated a Mexican restaurant
in the past may receive alerts about another well-rated Mexican eatery nearby.

“It is the combination of social media, individual
preferences and context that creates the opportunity for proactive discovery
rather than reactive search,” Ray said, pointing to the Netflix rating system
as an example of a current serendipity engine. 

The ramifications of applications that deliver
information to users without explicit prompting will lead to ad-hoc e-commerce

This will change the game for marketers, Ray noted, who will have to
tailor products and services to individual people not just

Facebook’s Sandberg, meanwhile, argued at the Advertising Week event Sept. 29 that “people don’t want
something targeted to the whole worldthey want something that reflects what
they want to see and know.”

To wit, in the next three to five years, generalized Websites will be an anachronism, she argued.

One could argue all day whether this is good or badReadWriteWeb outlined the pros and cons of letting users receive only content that suits
their tastesbut it certainly meshes with Facebook’s philosophy of

People who discuss a band frequently on Facebook may find
ads for merchandise or concerts related to that band pop up in their accounts. That’s
happening today.

In Schmidt’s future of autonomous, serendipitous search, that
same music-loving Facebook user may drive by a concert venue and receive a SMS
notification from their Facebook account alerting them that the band is playing
there tonight.

Why do the leg work when the machines can do it for you?
Just another step along the long path to artificial intelligence.


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