Is personalization making the internet less personal?

It’s an interesting question, one that sounds absurd at first but that actually starts hitting home once you think about it. If websites are in the business of guessing what we might be interested in based upon our clicks, aren’t we training it to fit into our past rather than give us the opportunity to see into our future? In essence, the collapsing of the internet through the personalized reduction of choice is actually making it less personal.

We all like to feel as if we’re being personally catered to, that someone understands and cares about our needs. But what happens when programs start guessing what we want? On the Web, rather than expanding our horizons, our world starts to shrink.

Consider the changes at Yahoo. Not long ago I bumped into CEO Marissa Mayer at a Yahoo event and asked her (well, okay, complained to her) about the personalization of information trend that she’s so keen on. Specifically, I pointed out that personalizing the Yahoo front page (that is, customizing it to reflect guesses about what you are interested in) has ruined it. Once the last great portal, Yahoo news was a solid, constantly updated source of information about what was happening in the world: Elections in Germany, debt in Greece, typhoon in Korea, crab invasion in California.

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