One of the many benefits of the Web is its ability to create a unique, tailored experience for the individual user. It’s more engaging to see news from friends and favorite brands when logging into a social network, rather than updates from strangers or random content. When done well, personalization on the Web is a win-win: users find relevant content easier while publishers enjoy increased engagement, fewer bounces, and stronger loyalty. But too often, users unknowingly trade their personal information for this better experience.
We recently shared our view that personalization must be handled with respect for the individual user. We want to see even more personalization across the Web from large and small sites, but in a transparent way that retains user control. The team at Mozilla Labs is focused on exploring ways to move the Web forward, and has thought a lot about how the browser could play a role in making useful content personalization a reality.
Last year, the Mozilla Labs Prospector team conducted a series of experiments in which a user’s browsing history could be matched with interests in categories like technology, sports and cooking. Users opted in to these experiments, which transparently showed the user these perceived interests to help them gain insight into how they spend time online. But what if these interests were also available for the user to share with the websites they visit to get a better, more personalized browsing experience?
As part of these experiments, our Labs team has been thinking about ways in which content creators and consumers could benefit from Web-based interests. For example, let’s say Firefox recognizes within the browser client, without any browsing history leaving my computer, that I’m interested in gadgets, comedy films, hockey and cooking. As I browse around the Web, I could choose when to share those interests with specific websites for a personalized experience. Those websites could then prioritize articles on the latest gadgets and make hockey scores more visible. Destinations like the Firefox Marketplace could recommend recipe and movie apps, even if it’s my first time visiting that site. And, as a user, I would have complete control over which of my interests are shared, and with which websites.
With the help of user researchers, we’ve begun testing this concept with volunteer participants to learn how they respond to the idea of sharing their interests on their own terms in order to see personalized content, and the results are promising. We’ve also tapped into a network of innovative Web content publishers such as Hubert Burda Media and Hearst Publications, notably Popular Mechanics, while developing these ideas, and have heard some great feedback and suggestions so far, as mentioned in our post on The Mozilla Blog.
We think this type of offering could bring transparent, effective personalization to users all across the Web in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. What do you think about the ability to share your interests for a personalized experience? What are some types of websites you’d love to see adopt this technology? We’re very interested in your take on it, so please let us know in the Labs discussion group.