Personalization is boring

I completely understand why personalization is necessary in today’s tech world.  Because there is just too much content, we become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, and we shut down.  So the sites that have figured out how to do personalization well are crushing it with higher engagement metrics.

But there’s a dark side to personalization.  Personalization runs the risk of making us more close-minded simply because we’re not exposed to things outside of where we might first click. Because we’re exposed to the same types of content over and over again, we begin to believe that’s the way the whole world is.  We can get bored of it, and even tune it out completely.

An interesting analogy is what’s happened in retail shopping. Go to any shopping area and you’ll see identical stores – Banana Republic, Old Navy, The Gap, Nike, Macys, Bed Bath & Beyond, even the top brands like Michael Kors, …..Wherever you go, it’s all the same.  And they feel like they carry the exact same stuff, they’re all inspired by the same designers that season, so there isn’t a ton of variety.  Lots of options, but very little variety.  And I hate shopping because of it.  Its uninspiring to me.

But I was in London recently just exploring the city and was fascinated by all the cute little stores carrying unique items I’ve never seen before.  I fell in love with stuff I wouldn’t call ‘my style’, mostly because it was so new to me that it was exciting.  And the times I’ve traveled outside of western culture, I really fall in love.  In fact, my favorite trip on memory was to Bolivia where I witnessed a dying culture of people who live on floating rafts, built of reeds.  It was beautiful and amazing because it was unique and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  I believe the single biggest downside of globalization is the loss of that cultural uniqueness.

I don’t know about you, but I like being exposed to content, clothing, ideas, books, food, people, religions, (insert whatever noun you want) that is outside of my immediate circle of ‘interest’.  It helps me discover things I didn’t know I would like.  It helps prevent tunnel vision.  It helps me be empathetic and more worldly and more grounded. It helps me be a better mother/wife/investor/managing director.  It helps me think bigger.

So tech world – I get why you personalize things for me, but I’d really like some variety too.  In fact, I’d love to see an exploration area on your site where I can get exposure to the complete opposite of what you would otherwise show me.  I might just learn something.

3 thoughts on “Personalization is boring

  1. Two things I’d like to point out:

    1- in NYC you definitely find the same variety. I feel it’s a matter of the minimum size and diversity for a community so that niches have a high enough number of potential customers.

    2- retail economics commands a reduction in the number of segments. On the opposite, online personalization has no limitations to that sort. Look at Prismatic and their machine-learning personalization. Far from reducing, it actually makes you discover things you didn’t know you’d like.


    • Romain – totally agree, in huge populated areas like NYC, there are lots of niche stores and that part has been refreshing. But there are still many places in the US that don’t have that kind of diversity. I totally understand why, I get the economics of it, I just think it sucks.

      There are only a few sites (like Prismatic) that do an amazing job at personalization. Most don’t put that level of effort into it. I only hope more do.


  2. Really interesting insight you have there! We will see how we can apply it to
    On second thought I think we are already doing something in this way since we classify music and movies into genres, so in order to try something new you can just try a genre that you don’t usually listen/watch.


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