ThoughtFarmer’s Gordon Ross on Implicit Personalisation on the Intranet

The debate about personalization vs. segmentation on the intranet has been much discussed and researched by many pioneering intranet designers and consultants. As keen observers of user behaviour in the real world, we believe that well chosen default options are a sound design strategy. Adoption rates of personalization features are low, driven by a lack of understanding of the business benefit from the user and the inertia of human nature to simply be lazy and accept defaults. By placing the user at the centre of the information universe and using their relationships to information and each other as the default filter, we can provide them with an intuitive view of their world, making significant progress towards our goal of a more relevant and valuable intranet.

The team at ThoughtFarmer often have interesting things to say about intranets – in this case, Gordon Ross’ guest post on the Dachis Collaboratory describes the benefits of implicit personlisation on intranets. This is an important idea that is reflected conceptually in both McAfee’s Enterprise 2.0 SLATES model and Dachis/Headshift’s Social Business Design archetypes.

Personally I wouldn’t say users are lazy as such, but it is true that people take the path of least resistance. Until relatively recently we also didn’t have mainstream access to the technologies that support implicit personalisation plus we lacked the organisational maturity to actually place the user at the centre. However, this is now changing.


One thought on “ThoughtFarmer’s Gordon Ross on Implicit Personalisation on the Intranet

  1. Thanks for the post James. In terms of laziness quip, which I acknowledge can come across as sounding a bit pessimistic and quite frankly patronizing, I was alluding directly to Thaler and Sunstein in Nudge when they state, “Research shows that whatever the default choices are, many people stick with them, even when the stakes are much higher than choosing the noise your phone makes when it rings [their example in the text re: your default ringtones for your mobile – GR]. Two important lessons can be drawn from this research. First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed.” The explicit personalization option available to users in systems like Sharepoint, Oracle portal implementations and others that afford this type of modification, are often far too much choice for an intranet user who’s technical capabilities are very basic. Not all employees who use our intranet software work in IT and customize their desktops or homepages. Too much choice can be paralyzing and a real turn-off for many users. Research like that done on wireless routers and the impact of their default settings shows that even “high tech” users (which I’d call the people who have the wherewithal to purchase and configure a wifi network in their home – quite the achievement for a non-IT professional or consumer if you ask me) most often leave the default settings in place: ” Moreover, we find that when a manufacturer sets a default 96-99% of users follow the suggested behavior, while only 28-57% of users acted to change these same default settings when exhorted to do so by expert sources.” from Software Defaults as De Facto Regulation: the Case of the Wireless Internet : that said, we do allow for explicit personalization on the homepage through the favourites feature. And as a wiki-inspired many to many intranet, the whole thing could be viewed as a personalized experience. I’m working on some metrics to determine just how many of our users are actually use these features within the context of a typical ThoughtFarmer install. Look for that post in the near future. Cheers,Gord.

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