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Marissa Mayer Wants to Read Your Mind August 14, 2012

Posted by Andre Vellino in Collaborative filtering, Digital Identity, Personal identity.

At about minute 3 of Charlie Rose’s Green Room interview with Marissa Mayer, the newly minted CEO of Yahoo offers a vision of the mobile future and asks “How do we create a search without search? Can we figure out the information you need before you even have to ask?” And, she says excitedly, “that’s really like mind reading technology!”

The inference? Be prepared for Yahoo to read your mind!

I have been a proponent of personalization since 2000, when I worked on developing “Personal Identity Management” services at Nortel. The idea at the time was (for a telecom company) to enable IP devices (routers / gateways) to track / manage / control your on-line identity and provide identity services (single sign-on, personalization of news services, etc.) to the user.

This was conceived at about the time that Microsoft Hailstorm was being launched. The only fundamental difference was – which service provider – “network access” vs. “operating system” vs. “third party service” – would be the trusted source for managing your identity.

From a public relations point of view Hailstorm and its successors Microsoft Passport, and Wallet, were a disaster. Invasion of privacy, identity theft, all the usual public anxiety buttons were pressed and Microsoft dropped a lot of these products – or at least gave them a makeover.

Yet, a few internet generations later, these ideas persist.  Google didn’t make a big PR campaign of it, but everything at Google is about personalization and localization as illustrated most graphically by the (dystopic?) Google Glasses video.

But – fortunately, I might add – I am noticing a (small) swing of the pendulum away from machine-learning, Netflix-style personalization towards a “how do you want it?” style of personalization.

For instance, Google News used to be fully and automatically biased towards your location. Since the summer of 2011, Google has given the end-user a great deal more control.

Marissa Mayer may want to read your mind, but I know that most people don’t want to have their minds read by machines. I think the trend towards great user-control will eventually spread to more personalization and recommender services. I hope so anyway.


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