How to Personalize the Web

Written by Martin Stiksel, co-founder of Last.fm.

I recently got to thinking about how I engage with the web, and how much more compelling the experience would be if the web engaged more actively with me.

The way it works with so many of the sites, networks and applications that Om and Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur make mention of is that you adapt yourself to what they offer. In that sense, it’s initially all about search — finding the YouTube clips you like, for example, or the RSS feeds you want to collate. Next it’s about having a conversation, using the likes of Gmail, IM or Twitter. Then you add those things together – having found the stuff you like, you share it with those people you connect with.

But how do you find anything worth sharing, and what if your friends don’t use the same applications? In that case you’re Twittering about nothing to no one. To make it interesting you have to adapt yourself to the system, to actively engage, something many of us have neither the time nor the inclination to do. No point in sharing for sharing’s sake. How many Facebook application invites do you ignore because, well, you can’t really be bothered anymore?


But what if all this stuff adapted to you, rather than the other way around?

How would that work? It would rely on everyone having a profile, or personal ID, that they could take with them when they explore the web. Last.fm users get one that reflects music taste just by listening to music. We work out what each user’s personal music preferences are based on their listening habits (we call it ‘scrobbling’) and use it to recommend new music they might like.

Now imagine taking that music ID and applying it everywhere you go on the web that’s music-related. Developers on build.last.fm, our third-party application showcase, are working to make this happen. One app listed there sorts your Facebook friends according to musical taste using your Last.fm profile, for example. Another finds eBay auctions suited to your music preferences.

When this kind of portability grows beyond the developer level, you should be able to make the web adapt to you instead of the other way around. What if you could use your profile or personal ID from social network A to customize web sites B through Z? What if, say, every online newspaper automatically filtered stories according to your Del.icio.us profile? Which sites would you like to take with you on your travels through cyberspace?

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