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Illustration of Some five years [&] ago, I gave a talk at BayCHI titled the Long and Winding Road to Information Flow [*].  The protagonist was the PERSON.  We called him Corbu Man, the image, here seen, that the masterful designer Jean Orlebeke created.  Thank you, Jean, still after all these years, thank you!

This PERSON is not a cog in institutional and social machinery.  He aspires and acts in a world of constraint in marvelously resourceful ways, an individual figure shaped by modern life. Having met his basics needs (not forgetting [1]), he carves out rich interests and over time engages in ways that creates rich layers of meaning in life.

Over the last 18 months, I, along with a team I’ve pulled together, have been pursuing a way for people to get regular information they want across a wide range of interests, broad and deep, professional and personal.  Many people do exactly this on the Internet now, but the experience is a mish-mash experience.

What is needed is Simplification along with Robust Fit in Real Life and Greater Yield.  What that requires is Personalization.  Nothing here has gained widespread adoption or even attention.  Nothing has been truly PERSON-alized.

  • Customized, sure, with the Person providing the labor. But even with better plumbing and panelling (e.g.  aggregators and slick start page interfaces), it takes too much work to scaffold a rig for even the now of interests, never mind staying true to the constant ebb and flow.
  • Socialized, sure.  What’s up with friends is certainly important, but friends as the subjects is the stronger idea than friends as information filters. Isn’t our very individuality defined by our desire to transcend the way others see us and find the real me?  Isn’t it often the case that it goes the other way and your interests turn into friend filters?
  • Aggregated and Curated.  Whether you visit the traditional or nouveau publishers, wideband or niche sites, it’s you that’s still forming the stable personal connection by going to such venues that bundle content, social context, and design.

REAL PEOPLE have satisficed.  Which is exactly what you’d expect people — again, marvelously resourceful, in a world of constraint — would do. People just search when they think of it.  For regular awareness, they start with a traditional publisher’s site (e.g. New York Times or CNN).  Or they go directly to a new tribal hangout or a “popularity in a niche” social filter site.  And yes most read stuff written or recommended by their friends.

This blend of searching, customizing, visiting curated places, and swimming social flows seems to work.  But there is a better way that is more than incremental, and people, I believe, will recognize it when they see it.  They are ready for somebody to deliver the truly personalized information delivery experience.  (Am I sure?  No.  Am I betting? Yes.)

And what does it take to achieve something that works?  A year ago, my eight-year old daughter, asked “But how does it know what you want?”  You can watch and guess.  Or you can ask!  Of course, it is easy to ask in stupid ways and get no answers, for example, filling in forms that will help you in the future.  Yet if you can “ask” in the right ways and answering is rewarded, people will participate.  They participate to their benefit.  If you can let the PERSON drive to where he does want to go, he will.

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