WEB DIARY: Anatomy of personalisation

There has never been a better time to get up close and personal with your online news provider, while singing at the top of your lungs "I did it myyyyyyyy waaay".

Not that you will be doing it "yoooooouur waaay" in the strictest sense of the word, but as a personalisation-empowered netizen of the world, you'll be close enough.

At the risk of sounding trite and unethical, I'm still dying to make a couple of grand statements about personalisation (yes, as a portal producer I recognise I have a vested interest in plugging something I helped create).

I'd really like to tell you how it's going to give you your Internet personhood back. Or how it will allow you to defy those information terrorists bent on flooding your senses with loads of unintelligible and essentially unwanted content. Or how it subscribes to the best eclectic practices of good scholars, shrewd businesspeople and other 21st century folk unimpressed by the idea of reverting to a common ancestral practice of ploughing just to get a wanted piece of information out of the hyper-fertile information land of the Internet.

But, the simple truth is that, as easily as it could do all of these things, personalisation might live up to none of the above.

As a facilitator of customised information delivery, personalisation simply puts you in control of the content aggregated from a variety of sources by giving you the ability to access it through a single site and select information relevant to your needs. Sometimes, it also appeals to your "technological inner child", allowing you, for instance, to pick your own colours and control the way information is presented.

And it usually does it all in exchange for a virtual pledge of loyalty sealed by an electronic kiss in the shape of a registration form with your reader preferences in tow.

While that is as complex or as simple as it gets (depending on how you want to see it), there is nothing revolutionary about having the ability to read what you want to read on the Net. In fact, in selling your portals and personalisation as the best thing since sliced bread, we, the labourers of the WWW, are just catching up with all those clever people out there who learnt a long time ago that getting to know your customers' tastes, needs and wants guarantees customer satisfaction. Yet, herein lies the key!

When Australian Reseller News decided it needed a new site that would be more in tune with the channel's needs, delivering a personalised information service was the first thing that sprang to mind, not because it was trendy to talk personalisation, but because we sensed there was a need to start practicing what we preach to you daily - that is to add value to our product by providing better service to our customers.

And this is where personal Web technologies can do much more than our own editorial tastes and judgements can when they are presented to you as a fait accompli, rather than as a sophisticated information gathering system that you can use to select your content preferences and let us know what you want and don't want to read.

Using the said principle, we are now offering you, our readers, the position of a collective online editor, hoping to build a relationship that extends beyond a story you're interested in and into a partnership of trust.

To our trade, this is what peeling a banana, blending it with some milk and serving it as a nicely decorated smoothie before making sure you don't want more honey is to a milk bar - a value-added service that guarantees customer loyalty in return.

It's a technique that you should certainly try to use in communicating with your customers online, because personalising your service is a key to unlocking their vocal potential while doing it "theiirr way".

As for us at ARNnet, we're waiting to hear how well you are doing with Sinatra tunes.

Tamara Plakalo is the online producer of ARNnet.com.au. Contact her at tamara_plakalo@idg.com.au

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