Personalized Content and Content Management Systems

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. Couple of months ago, Bill Maher‘s ending monologue was about personalized content. All of us who have been working with Sitecore and other content management systems knows what this is, of course. A very big majority of the users of Sitecore are marketers, and their goal is to captivate as much of their audience as possible, part of their strategy includes tailoring the content to the reader. Sitecore offers sophisticated tools to be able to track what the user prefers and then serve up specific content that interests the reader. This is great for the reader, who gets to see more content about topics that they like.

So – Bill Maher’s premise is that personalized content is making us dumber. According to him, more and more Americans are only getting “news” from places that only reinforce what they think. This leads to unchallenged thoughts and opinions, which can hinder an expanded thinking process. You can view the entire transcript here: http://bit.ly/1hXHpzE

You can also watch the video:

I get where this is coming from. I do believe that it is necessary to get a variety of information from all different sources in order to form a solid opinion about something. But as usual, there are exceptions to rules for everything. News is supposed to be about facts. It is factual information being told back to us. This IS supposed to come from multiple sources because one party may not always have all the information. There is a certain bit of corporate responsibility that news organizations should have. Its one thing to only get news from one source, and its another thing to get news about one thing. Organizations can control the latter, but they cannot control the former.

However, I think the level of personalization comes in at a much lower level, way after one has already chosen what source they want to get their information, and so it does not affect pursuing peoples focus. And this is why it does not really matter if the content at this level is personalized. If I like landscape photography, then I do want to read about landscape photography at my favorite photography website. But the website does not have any choice about the fact that I chose THAT website to go to. Nor does it have any say about the fact that I am not reading about any other sort of art.

This specifically (I believe) does not apply to branding and product sites. The idea of these sites is to make the audience interested in their product, and they have a very specific goal in mind – conversions. The site that Bill spoke about like facebook, yahoo, etc have a much more global reach, and a much wider variety of audience. Their only goal is to have people staying on their site – a very different goal than corporate and branding websites (not to say they don’t want that, too) – in the end I think people have certain responsibility as well, to seek out information and perspectives from a variety of sources.

If you do want to personalize content, take a look at Sitecore’s Personalization Editor

An edited version of this post also appears on The Runtime Report.

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