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If there’s one thing the people in my circle can confirm about me is that I listen to quite a bit of music. Not nearly as much as some of the hardcore enthusiasts that I know, but definitely more than the average person. In this way, streaming services such as Spotify has practically become a Godsend for me, allowing me to enjoy as much music as I can possibly handle for $10 bucks a month. Normally, I use blogs and online music publications for listening suggestions but recently, I’ve used Spotify’s algorithms to help me on that front as well.

The result, to say the least, is quite uncanny. My taste in music isn’t what I call eclectic but it veers far enough from the center that I sometimes feel like a bit of an outlier when it comes to music compared to the people around me. Spotify’s algorithm on the other hand, seems to understand me well enough that if it asks for my hand in marriage right this very second, I’d be very much inclined to say yes. That is obviously an overstatement but it does underline just how powerful the concept of personalization can be in web development.


Personalization in a nutshell

The concept of personalization is simple, the idea is to make it each user’s experience is tailor-made to each user. In Spotify’s case, the streaming service keep track of the songs and/or musicians you like to listen to and start suggesting things to you that the algorithm thinks is similar to what you’ve listened to in the past. Data is Spotify’s bread and butter and the more data you feed the algorithm, essentially the more it knows about your taste in music, the better it gets at giving you recommendations.

As my listening habits is quite excessive, roughly 4 hours a day thanks to long commute times and for exercising, Spotify already has a lot of data on me for their Discover Weekly playlist and it’s so good that there isn’t a single song on that playlist that I would’ve skipped. Trust me when I say that praises do not go higher than that. Some of its recommendation is from names I’m already familiar with but some are complete strangers, which make discovering them all the more fulfilling.

That is one of the more extreme examples of personalization but there are other less comprehensive examples and ones where the user could have a direct input on personalization. In the news aggregator service Flipboard for example, users are asked to pick topics that they’re interested in and Flipboard will show them news stories and articles revolving around that topic. Various e-commerce platforms usually suggest products based on your past purchases or products that are similar to what you’re currently viewing in order to help you find what you’re looking for.

Instagram’s Explore tab and ads are also tailored to contents you’ve seen and liked and the people you follow and while I haven’t used Facebook in over a decade, I’m pretty sure they employ this same personalization method. Personalization isn’t just an added benefit to have; I would argue that ever since the internet has suffered from a glut of information, personalization is now necessary. It’s a way of filtering out the things that are useless and pushing relevant contents to the forefront, something that business should consider looking into.


Personalization builds relationship

I used to joke to my friends that it would be very easy to assassinate me because I used to grab lunch at the same place and ordering merely slight variations of the same food. It sounds a little bit boring but this particular place serves great food and I was such a regular that I no longer have to be specific about my order because they already know what I want. You know that cliche about lovers finishing each other’s sentences? That’s the kind of relationship I have with them.

Obviously, you have no way of having that kind of relationship over the internet but website personalization could serve as a stand-in. I mean, in terms of music, Spotify knows me better than anyone in my life with the possible exception of my ex and that’s no small thing. I’m really not that complicated, by simply tracking my listening habits, Spotify got to know me well enough that they have a good guess on what other kind of music that I like.


Transforming data into insights

Personalization is very much like those cure personality tests you tend to find online. A colleague sent me a link to one of those four-letter personality thingy and when my results came back, I showed it to her and she immediately gushed all over the results because it describes me perfectly. Well, given that I answered all of the questions as honest as I possibly can, it’s kind of obvious that the result would be a reflection of my personality, wouldn’t it?

Data is the crux of personalization. Used in a good way, it can be like Spotify, giving me new music discoveries but in a sinister way, it could be like Facebook giving users data to a firm with the express purpose of influencing an election. If there was ever any doubt on just how powerful data can be, the past three years should clear all of that. Even small businesses that lack the reach of Facebook and Spotify can still use analytical tools, surveys and other available statistics to use these data for their businesses.