This weekend my wife and I went shopping for lighting — fixtures and lamps for some redecorating we’re doing. There’s a particular style we like and we found some things in different stores in town, but not a huge selection in that style. So, of course, the next thing I did was go online to see what else is available. I found options at quite a number of online sites and “stores.”
The next day I was online doing research at various sites, many of which are ad-supported. While browsing about I noticed an ad in the banner at the right of the page. It was for a terrific table lamp in just exactly the style we’re looking for. It was even at a good price!
I think most of us are at least vaguely aware of that type of thing. On at least some level we recognize that when we’re browsing online we’re constantly being shown products and services that our past browsing behavior indicates might interest us. And I’m guessing that most of us view that as a real service. After all, if we’re going to be marketed to — and by browsing ad-supported content we’ve “opted in” to being marketed to — it’s a whole lot better if it’s something we might be interested in than if it’s just more commercial noise, isn’t it?
It’s called “behavioral marketing” and I can remember when it was a scary concept. The idea that our browsing behavior might be tracked and the information collected might be somehow used without our knowledge was chilling. It sounded vaguely Big Brother-ish. We had to keep those “cookies” off our computer!
But over time our attitudes changed. Browsers have settings that allow us to control cookies, or even keep them off our computer altogether, but most of us don’t use those settings. Perhaps for some that’s because they don’t even know they can, but I think most people wouldn’t regardless. And I think that’s because we recognize the value we receive in return.
It happens in varying degrees. The example above is pretty innocuous. Consider what happens when you log onto a site? Now the connection becomes even more intimate and the information shown even more targeted. For example, as soon as I log onto Amazon, I see any number of “Recommendations for You.” These recommendations are based on my previous buying and browsing behavior, and how it compares to others with similar tastes and behaviors. Another example is when you see things like “People who bought this also bought …” Or music services that suggest things I might like based upon what I already listen to. All these are examples of things that are only possible because the computer collected some information about myself and millions of others, and then drew inferences.
And do you know what? I think this is great! I find it very valuable. I think it improves my life in subtle but significant ways.
How about you?