Imagine your best friend, a skilled reference librarian, watching you surf the web and -- by noting what you stop to read and what you bypass -- continually offering you lots of additional, in-depth content you might not easily find on your own.
You can soon have this capability on your home page.
It's called "Personal Web", and it's running right now in test mode on Claria's computers, on track to be launched early in the first quarter of 2006 (probably January), according to Scott Eagle, Claria's chief marketing officer.
Advertisers and publishers already cooperate to target advertising materials. With Personal Web (PW), the content of your home page will also be automatically and continually geared -- and re-geared -- to match your interests.
As with Google Sidebar, PW will be a software download that will profile the sites you visit and the content you select. It will determine your news and information interests in much the same way behavioral targeters already infer and anticipate your advertising interests. Using both algorithms and your personal choices, the PW system will bring you more and better content within the topics you're already reviewing, and will also "audition" other content you might find of interest.
"It's the next extension of search," says Eagle. "This is the kind of passive profiling people have been asking for. With literally hundreds of papers, magazines and other channels available worldwide, we have access to a cornucopia of content. We need a system to help us make sense of the millions of documents available online."
According to Eagle, people who currently configure a home page are generally happy with the information it brings them, but want it to work better. The typical complaint is that, over time, their interests change but their home page doesn't. Whether it's because their home page is too difficult to reconfigure or because they're not consciously aware of the amount and directions their interests are changing, few web surfers recustomize their home page often enough.
And there are other limitations. For example, you can't get to Expedia from a Yahoo! home page.
"The best start page," Eagle claims that web surfers report, "is everything I want, all brought together, plus other stuff I might be interested in."
For example, Eagle wants his own home page to collect his email from two different providers, and let him check Expedia for travel options. He wants it to reflect his current interests -- the content he knows he wants -- and offer him new topics he might like. He also wants the page to stop displaying content he's no longer reading. Finally, he wants some manual control over all this.
"Personal Web is that home page," he says.
It's designed as a "recommendation engine," and a smart one. After years of developing insights and learning how to use its ad-serving technology, Claria is now applying the same approach to categorizing and classifying interests.
Of course, there's a fine line between judiciously offering appreciated recommendations and swamping a person. Let's say there's a story about a murder. You might read it, but that probably doesn't mean you want your home page to blossom out with dozens of murder stories. The software has to be smart not only about a starting a new content stream, but stopping it. Eagle likens it to Baskin Robbins' 32 flavors. You may eat only a few of the flavors, but you want to know everything that's available and you want to easily find what you like.
Claria claims its algorithm learns very quickly. But in case it doesn't learn quickly enough, you can "push pin" a topic. Effectively, you tell the software: "Don't try to read my behavior on this one, just keep the information coming."
Eagle acknowledges that PW will not be right all of the time. "But if it's right only half the time," he suggests, "it'll be much better than today's more passive home pages. In fact, if all it does is give you the five or 10 places you mostly go, it crushes anything else you've ever experienced in terms of personalization."
Claria's plan is to offer publishers a way to broaden their affinity with their audience by offering a home page, co-branded with Personal Web, that will put the publisher in front of its consumers about four to six times a day.
For example, Eagle explains, the average New York Times subscriber goes to that site about 1.1 times a day. But they're not bringing all their attention or purchasing action to the Times because they generally start at some other portal page and then open a new browser to visit the Times' site. What's more, most people won't make the Times their home page because its range of coverage is just too narrow, too localized to New York, and too limited in terms of email, search, travel booking, shopping and other internet capabilities.
Claria's vision is for the Times -- and other publishers -- to offer their subscribers a personalized home page that uses the power of PW to provide a better experience, including email, search, and a broader range of content, all wrapped in your favorites among the publisher's proprietary content.
What's more, the consumer gets all this extra capability without pop-ups. Instead, embedded in your home page will be relevant links and paid links that reflect your current interests.
Claria is proposing to sell some ads on these pages, while the publisher continues to sell its own ads through whatever service it wants (including Claria, of course). The Times -- and other publishers -- will promote this new kind of active, self-configuring home page to their affinity audiences, and share any resulting revenue uptick with Claria.
Claria representatives are on a road show right now, talking to hundreds of publishers all over the country. Early indications are that some are wary, some are cautious and some are enthusiastic. Tellingly, though, none of them is saying it's a bad idea. Claria is not announcing which publishers have signed on until the PW system launches next year.
Robert Moskowitz is a consultant and author who speaks and writes frequently in the United States and abroad on such topics as white collar productivity, knowledge management, practical use of the internet, telecommuting, caring for aging parents, and business applications of information technologies. He has authored several books, including "How To Organize Your Work and Your Life," and "Parenting Your Aging Parents," and teaches several online courses.
Sonic images are how sound events become auditory brands. The brain associates the sound event with some outcome. They are called sonic images because the ear-brain-mind will augment the auditory information with known visual information -- a known image or brand reference -- based on the sound event. The visual image or outcome associated with the sound event can be desirable or undesirable, and which one doesn't matter to the ear-brain-mind, so be careful.
Sonic images depend on the same things we mentioned before: culture, history, environment and education. In addition, sonic images also rely on income level, vocation, avocation, geographic location and other more demographic-specific elements. Like Tony the Tiger's growl, the opening to Pink Floyd's "Money" is a great sonic image that speaks to a targeted and desirable demographic. Its meaning might be lost to younger demographics as we move to a moneyless culture (prevalence of credit, debit and smart cards).
Let me give you some examples of sonic images. Some you might get, some you might not. (I identify them at the end of this column.)
The good and bad thing about sonic images is that they are amazingly demographic and culturally specific. People will respond positively, negatively or not at all, and the cut-offs between who will respond and how they will respond can be surgical in their accuracy. Use them, just use them wisely, especially now that any website is a global calling card of your business.
Creating sonic images
Now that I've suggested you don't do this without lots of training and practice, I'll demonstrate how to create some simple sonic images. We're going to take the sound events we shared earlier and turn them into sonic images by associating each of them with something. This is very simple and it plays heavily into the use of personal brands to promote business opportunities.
Which sound event is linked to this image?
How about this one? Is there a specific sound event that might match this image better than any others we offered?
And this one is where the demonstration of sound event to sonic image becomes complete. Which sound event do you think is most closely tied with this image (which also happens to be a brand)?
This figure is also a demonstration of creating a personal brand with a sonic image. If an individual is uniquely associated with a brand and that individual has positive attributes associated with him or her, that person's voice can often become the sonic image element of their personal branding practice.
The example I often use about sonic images and personal brands is my own presentation style. People who've heard me at some conference often tell me that they can hear me talking when they read my blogs and columns and that it gives them a feeling of intimacy and trust. Yes, I'm definitely flattered by this and yes, I appreciate the value my voice brings to my personal and NextStage's corporate brands.
The trick with sonic images is to use what's already in your audience's conscious and has a desired positive association. Link that sound event to a brand and every time customers hear the sound event -- even if they imagine it -- they will create a sonic image with desired positive meaning.
Where those sonic images came from:
- Sonic image 1: from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" by Tan Dun
- Sonic image 2: from "St. Elsewhere" by Dave Gruisen
- Sonic image 3: from "Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi
- Sonic image 4: Opening to original "Outer Limits" by Villa de Stephano Productions
Advances in web technology have made auditory information as important a presentation element as visual information. Readers of God, Satan and your brand website learned that knowledge of a culture's art is necessary for successful web design. Now they'll have to appreciate that knowledge of a culture's music is equally as necessary.
Use sound events wisely or not at all, and recognize that one of the best uses is in personal and corporate branding.
Joseph Carrabis is CRO and founder of NextStage Evolution and NextStage Global and founder of KnowledgeNH and NH Business Development Network. He is senior research fellow and board advisor for the Society for New Communications Research. Read full bio.