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Introduction: Personalized Views of Personalization

Our vocabulary of Internet-related words has become socially popular and, of course, an essential tool of trade in the hands of marketing initiatives. I recall in the early 1990s when words like "agent" and "multimedia" were so overused they became little more than meaningless marketing spin.
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In 1994 I served as guest editor for Communications’ special issue on intelligent agents with the goal of providing some insight into the use of the word "agent." In that issue, I posed questions that served to provide useful perspectives as to what agent research and its utility were about. I invited an expert(s) relative to each question to discuss and define the important issues.

Our responsibility in using terms like "agent," "multimedia," or "personalization" is to clearly define the use of the word. Today, terms like "e-business," "e-commerce," "m-commerce," and "personalization" are used in relationship to our Darwinian Digital World enabled by IP communication over the Internet with its existing infrastructure realized in wireless, wired (optic and traditional), and cable networks.

What is personalization? Is it a better way to communicate and to do business? Is it customer-relationship management or one-to-one relationships? How will it help business-to-business relationships? What are its potential roles in education?

Is personalization hype or opportunity? I take the position it’s opportunity, but it must be defined clearly and it must be designed to be useful and usable. I suggest that personalization is not a silver bullet, but instead is part of the following prime directive for business: Give the customer a high-quality product or service they really need and can use at the "best" (lowest) price, and give the customer high-quality service with integrity. Do this and the result will be successful corporate branding and customer loyalty.

Simply stated from one point of view, personalization is about building customer loyalty by building a meaningful one-to-one relationship; by understanding the needs of each individual and helping satisfy a goal that efficiently and knowledgeably addresses each individual’s need in a given context. To extend this point, it is about the mapping and satisfying of a user’s/customer’s goal in a specific context with a service’s/business’s goal in its respective context. Clearly, this is a difficult problem.

Let us start with two key points. First, personalization is not restricted to the Internet. Personalization must be realized at all user/customer interfaces—the Internet, brick-and-mortar, call centers, and various voice/telephony services using automatic speech recognition and text to speech (ASR/TTS) or dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF or touch-tone). Second, personalization does not require a service or product to be able to identify each user/customer. For example, a given service could be designed and deployed to address the needs of farmers in New Jersey without ever identifying an individual user/farmer. If the design was done extremely well, then it is possible that New Jersey farmers could believe such a service was personalized for each of them.

In this section on personalization, I have again formulated a series of questions and invited experts to provide their answers, solutions, and most importantly, valuable insights. The presentation of this material is intended to provide many different views that may form into various subsets and intersections. There is no single answer or solution to personalization, for that would not be personalized for each reader of this publication. Instead, think of the articles in this section as members of a set of views, ideas, and instances of research and development. They can be formulated and reformulated by you, the reader, into various subsets and partial orderings. The ideas discussed by the experts herein can be formed together to address your personal needs relative to the topic of personalization in a given context.

The articles have been categorized into four basic areas that focus on: the business of personalization, the human element, deeper issues, and enabling technologies.

In the section entitled "The Business of Personalization," Nigel Wells and Jeff Wolfers explore the important issues for personalization in finance and banking. Economist Richard C. Riecken reports on the critical economic opportunities for personalization in our digital economy. Udi Manber et al. tell us what Yahoo! has learned about personalization from its own experiences. And my interview with Kathleen Earley, Vice President of AT&T Internet Services, discusses the opportunity for personalization in the communications industry.

The "Human Element" section brings home real-world, real-time user experiences in personalization. John Vergo et al. take on designing an interactive personalized user experience. How does one identify user needs and the goals users might formulate and then attempt to satisfy their needs? Karat et al. investigate designing a GUI or speech interface for a service or product that provides a personalized user experience.

Once we design a service with its interface, how do we measure success? Edith Schonberg et al. insist metrics are critical to the task, and examine ways we learn and improve our service with evolving features and design. Nick Belkin discusses how people use recommendations, particularly if the recommendations came from a "machine." Finally, Linda Candy and Ernest Edmonds tackle technologies that can help individuals performing creative tasks.

The "Deep Issues" section ponders the impact and side effects, if you will, of personalization. In particular, if one view of personalization is about interactions between individual persons and machines, then shouldn’t machines have better common sense about people and the world?

Marvin Minsky issues a "call to arms" for developing better theories and systems to perform common-sense reasoning. John McCarthy considers the importance of using commonsense reasoning when data mining. Ed Pednault declares: "Representation is everything!" and evaluates the important issues involving fundamental properties of representation, in particular, the challenges of representing individual people with all their needs and behaviors.

Legal issues surrounding privacy are of paramount concern in the pursuit of personalization. Eugene Volokh outlines our rights and the laws that do (and don’t) protect us. He wonders if it is possible to improve privacy laws without changing the very essence of a law of government as, for example, defined in the U.S. Constitution. I have written a piece that analyzes the value of personal end-user tools to enable personalization. And David C. Smith points out that end users can program and build their own personal tools. Just imagine: End users with the power to instruct their own computers and agents to do what they want and need when they want and need.

"Enabling Technologies" spotlights the tools that provide new opportunities for personalization services. In this section, Paul Maglio and Rob Barrett describe intermediaries and how the technology can enable a range of personalization services. Haym Hirsh et al. point out the important opportunities for machine learning to enable new useful personalization services. Barry Smyth and Paul Cotter investigate the technical issues to enable services that provide personalized information to the right person at the right time.

Also in this section, Paul Kantor et al. discuss how we can include people as part of an enabling technology to deliver personalized services. And Wlodek Zadrozny et al. explore how natural language and speech recognition can enable new personalized interfaces and services.

So, what is personalization? By the end of this section, you will hopefully come to realize that personalization means something different to everyone. Perhaps its meaning is context sensitive; perhaps it’s about context. Each article in this section provides a partial view of the subject that, when combined with some of the other featured articles, will paint a bigger picture as created by each reader. By design, I hope readers will form their own views from these articles based on their own needs—alas, the "personal" in personalization.

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