Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Nearly Roadkill

[First off: Per request, my BAR Camp slides are now available in PDF format.]

We are getting very close to the Online Marketing Millennium, in the old-fashioned sense of Christ's 1000-year reign on Earth. The Savior is coming in the form of totally customized marketing to individuals on The Internet, and it's slouching pretty close to Bethlehem as we speak. We're close, but the process still has its hiccups: someone at BAR Camp was talking about how he spent some time on Amazon hunting for children's gifts, and thereafter Amazon would only recommend kids' items to him, when he was actually looking for, like, O'Reilly books or whatever.

I was thinking about this issue yesterday after my response to NeilFred's comment on my last post: Google most likely is working on a scalable enterprise-class customized personal marketing solution. ("Bingo!") Serving ads based on a query, considered in isolation, is old and busted; the new hotness (well, recent warmness, I may be behind the times) is serving ads based on an entire user profile, based on a context built up over time, sync'ed with the individual's current needs*, and pulling data from a variety of sources -- from your search history to what interests you list on on Orkut to the tags you attach to your Picasa photos. Not so much psychographic marketing as -- let's call it id-ographic marketing. Market segmentation into a set of size 1.

It's coming, but it's far from a new idea. It's one of the more interesting themes in Kate Bornstein and Caitlin Sullivan's book Nearly Roadkill, wherein every person must Register themselves with the government on the Internet under their true, legal identity; not to do so is a federal crime. A male policeman who is not very good with computers accidentally registers as a female (it's a binary choice, mind, you can't check "Other"!), discovers he can't hit "Back" in the registration wizard to correct the error, and finds himself doomed to an eternity of tampon ads. Watching the evolution of online advertising, particularly Google's contributions, has made me hearken frequently back to Nearly Roadkill. So I decided to post about it today, only to discover that danah boyd beat me to it by two years. She seems to be thinking mostly about the social aspects of the book, though, while I'm looking at the marketing part (as you might expect from danah and me, respectively). That's not to say I haven't also spent a lot of time considering other themes in the book, but since this is my marketing blog and not my (nonexistent) recovering English major blog, I'll stick to mentioning NR's eerie prophesying of the coming millennium.

If anyone can immanentize the Eschaton, it'll be Google.

"Speed it, O Father! Let thy Kingdom come!"

UPDATE: Dogster's Ted Rheingold's got some related thoughts.

*I include this clause because Amazon still recommends LSAT study guides to me, even though I took the LSAT a year ago and have already navigated the law school application process. Why doesn't Amazon make note of my buying an LSAT study guide, wait one year, start recommending standard 1L books on CivPro and the like, wait another three years, and then start recommending bar exam study guides? Unless, that is, it collects data in the meantime that suggest I've abandoned the law school thing.
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