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Personalisation not the Holy Grail

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Personalisation can offer some added value when used appropriately, but demand has been over-hyped, claimed Peter Bale, editor of Times Online, speaking at ‘Tomorrow’s Web’, the PPAi/AOP conference on 3 May.

“It is important to give people journeys that surprise them,” explained Bale.

“Personalising a newspaper to death would create a very dull newspaper – you would lose the ability to discover new things, stuff you didn’t know you wanted to read.”

“We are all in a battleground for attention, at the level of the stories themselves, as well as at the level of the medium,” warned Bale; “The impact of search engines on behaviour of news sites is phenomenal. Every page is your homepage - people come right into the middle of the website and bypass your homepage altogether – we have to rethink our design concept accordingly.”

While personalisation can work brilliantly for some kinds of niche content such as stocks and shares, Bale suggested that generally speaking, the demand for personalisation of content is over-hyped, with one well-known portal site saying that less than 10 per cent of its users were making use of the personalisation features on offer.

Bale’s own test using Google News’ personalisation tools revealed that he would have missed the two most entertaining stories the Times Online editor had read in months, since they had nothing to do with search terms used.

Bale pointed to the BBC News model, which features a ‘Your BBC News’ panel of personalised headlines, as a clever way of including some personalisation while ensuring that users are still able to stumble across interesting stories covering a broader range of different subjects.

Editionising, which in broad terms means running editions of the core brand offering aimed at different target markets, was seen as by Bale as a good solution, allowing the website to “differentiate parent products and focus attention of the core values of the product.”

Times Online for a global audience is less parochial in tone, and offers a commitment to international coverage; a different perspective, for example.

However, Bale cautioned that dayparting (tailoring content according to time of day) can be an expensive, time consuming business, which may change the site beyond all recognition from what readers like or want.

Download Peter Bales' presentation - members only.Download Type: pdf
Download Size: 4021k

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