It’s already been widely noted in the Twitter community that two different speakers played the same segment at this year’s Internet Strategy Forum in Portland. You should watch it before we proceed. It shows a character portrayed by Tom Cruise walking down the streets, with advertisements coming up just for him.
The reason people played and talked about the segment is that the era of personalized advertising is here. Now, it’s unlikely a hologram is going to follow me as I walk offering me drinks. But the point speakers were making is that personalization is coming.
Nobody talked about the implications for democracy and the conduct of public policy and government; sadly, for a second year, nobody else from government was in sight at the conference. But the implications are huge.
Let’s talk about the business implications for a second. Consider how you already shop at Amazon or other Internet shopping or travel sites. You can look up reviews of books or hotels or many other products. Amazon makes suggestions for what sort of books you might want to buy based on your preferences and past buying history. That’s not new stuff.
What’s new is how this era of personalization is extending. So, for example, the keynote speaker, Jeremiah Owyang of Forrest Research used the example of how Volkswagen, in an ad, asked for permission to scan his Twitter stream. The computer program found the word ‘family’ mentioned in his Tweets, so it recommended a station wagon to him. You can read more about this subject at Jeremiah’s blog posting.
The other thing he noted that is you can now browse web pages within Facebook. What that means in practical terms is that Facebook can overlay what it knows about your friends with what you see on that web page. So we are coming to an age, where I could go to Facebook, call up a car company’s web page, and the browser will tell you what all your friends think of that particular car company. Imagine wanting to buy anything – cable service, a computer, a lawnmower – and being able to find out what your trusted friends think of the options. In fact, Jeremiah noted, companies are already starting to do this, such as Get Glue.
This brings us back to the clip from Minority Report. My mobile phone contains my Facebook information. Imagine when I can hold my phone up to a sign in a store, and it tells me about the products I may be interested in (the sign might say, “Hey, Walter, it’s your anniversary in a month, we have some ideas for what you can buy Cindy …”)
So let’s bring it home to government. Just think about what this means for democracy. Within the near future, someone will be able to call up a politician’s name on a newspaper website or web page and see exactly what his or her friends think of the person. Imagine calling up my web page either on the Internet or on Facebook and being able to see what your friends think of my voting record on the budget, parks, roads, etc… The information exchange is going to be breathtaking.
It also means politicians will be under sharp demand to consider what people think of them. Right now, I’d argue, the pressure is on candidates and politicians to think most especially of such things the year they are running for election or re-election. But if there is a community constantly generating recommendations and building up momentum 24 hours a day, then politicians will be held to a high standard of accountabilty. It’s an exciting era.
Right now, you might see a special interest group rank a politician once a year. Imagine a world where we are ranked 24/7 AND not by interest groups, but by something that will grow to be more powerful: your unique-to-you trusted friends.
This also applies to government, of course. People will be ranking aspects of government. And …
Will government respond by personalizing? Will there be a time when the government scans your tweets, decides you live in Lakewood and you are interested in dogs, and then send you notes about our dog park?
Will you walk into a city council chambers or go to a city council website, put in some simple info or pass a card or your phone by a printer, and then watch as detailed reports and future agenda schedules about a particular topic or street address come up just for you?
What other implications do you see for democracy in an age of increasing Internet personalization?