Building Personalised Products

I love running. My wife on the other hand, not so much… I’d love her to run with me more often, but sometimes, despite my best and most sincere attempts to persuade her, she just doesn’t want to…

But I’m not alone in this pursuit. The reality is, we all do it; that is, trying to change people’s behaviour. We shove the book in his hand. We buy her running shoes. We hint more. We do all kinds of things so that people can change their behaviour. Whether it is out of selfish ambition or because we really care about them.

Companies do that as well. It’s just not as humane as our attempts.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and hundreds of other companies has build massive social graphs that enable them to change people’s behaviours and they allow anyone else who is interested to do the same.

Whether we love or hate the well-timed ads or perfectly curated stories in our feeds, it’s not going to change. Companies will continue to use brilliant algorithms and personal information to try and change our behaviour. They will continue to create what, Soleio Cuervo, calls personalised products.

In this article by First Round Review, the author makes some bold and slightly controversial statements:

“The takeaway for startups is that you should actively manage people’s identities in ways that encourage the behaviour you want.”

“All of these systems of structured relationships act as graphs that can be used to deliver tailored experience to individuals.”

“The new wave of innovation will be all about presenting the right information at the right time in the context of relationships, location and device.”

It borders on the edge of ethics and privacy and makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. Especially the statement about “manag[ing] people’s identities in ways that encourage the behaviour you want.” Isn’t a product supposed to solve the needs of a user? No. It’s supposed to do both. Products should be built to align with both business and user goals.

All businesses exist to make money and for as long as this is going to be the case, companies will try and make users buy more of their products. They will use more of your info and build more personal products so that you can do more of what they want you to do.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using information to change user behaviour. The problem, however, is how information harvested out of social graphs, is used to invoke unnecessary behaviour; in particular persuading people to do/buy/consume things they don’t need.

The true innovators would be companies that know and persuade people to do the things they really need to do more. Maybe it is to buy the running shoes. But only because I need ones. And the pair that fit’s my budget best. Maybe I need to buy healthier food. Read more. Go out less. Chill at home. Hike. Spend time with the family. Sleep. Or go to church.

I believe that the most successful and innovative personalised products, would be the ones that solve real human needs based on what they know about people.

But even better, the ones that know how to persuade my wife to run with me more often. Or when to let her to decide for herself…