The Tom Cruise character lives in a world 52 years hence where we have given up many of our innate human rights in return for security and public humiliation in every shopping mall.
The real issue here is one of data and of cost. Today we have most of the ‘Minority Report’ technologies, they’re just too expensive to implement. Only the security services have enough cash and political will to turn the reams of personal data capable of being collected into usable services. But services for them, alas, not us.
There have been a few gallant attempts to personalise advertising and content, although it usually appears as ‘Click here to set your home city weather’.
There is, of course, the ever-present cookie file, which will make sure you don’t see more than three of those banner ads you’ve ignored anyway. There are personal home pages where sites such as Yahoo! and MSN try (sometimes in vain) to deliver an ad relevant to the country you’re actually in, let alone relevant to who you are and when you’re looking at it.
My favourite is the MacUser site from Dennis Publishing, which in roughly six years of logging me in as www.macuser.co.uk/mikebutcher/home.html has never once produced an ad which said ‘Hi Mike. We notice you’ve been looking at a lot of articles about Z’, since it must have recorded every one of my interactions in that directory. The closest it got was when Dennis wrote a little script to get every banner to say ‘Welcome Mike’. I assume this must have scared the willies out of most users because I never saw it again.
Latterly, there have been two more-interesting-than-the-average UK firms addressing personalisation. The first was Fingertips.com. Unlike the risible WinWin.com, which had no content, this was a content site which built fiendishly clever software to allow people to make my weekend based on its multiple entertainment feeds. It had everything – sliding preferences, group calendaring, collaborative filtering – you name it. Gradually Fingertips would learn all about you and start to suggest things. Unfortunately the main backer, Channel 4, pulled out before the formal launch and we never got to see what it was capable of.
The second is Media One Europe, a start-up which is the only one I’ve seen so far that plans to address the mountains of data which sites collect but never actually use, to deliver better and more targeted services.
Today personalisation is moving towards the TV screen, with the likes of TiVo and ReplyTV. But still those tonnes of unused data files lie untouched inside many a Web server, unloved either by the economies of scale involved in extracting the gold or the dull wit of the site owners. Unless you’re MI5. But that’s a different story.
First published: http://www.nma.co.uk/nmz/story.asp?id=235835