Personalisation and localisation are top themes in interwebs discussions at the moment. It seems everyone wants to mine our search and browse behaviours so as to tailor ever more relevant products and services to our perceived interests and needs. I’ve blogged before about the dangers that this trend poses in terms of loss of serendipity and today I was struck by a practical example of exactly that kind of loss when I popped in for a browse in the village bookshop.
I’ve always loved to read and I spend a bit of my leisure time every weekend reading reviews, browsing book-related sites, following favourite authors and generally keeping an eye on what’s what in the publishing world. Yet despite a seemingly high level of engagement and a fairly consistent search and browse pattern, a casual visit to the local bookshop manages to throw up a selection of interesting fiction and non-fiction that never makes it into my online communities. Why? Probably, in part at least, because some of this material is local like the signed copies of self published novels by an author who lives in my village. It seems somehow odd, however, that the algorithms missed promoting the Thatcher biography to a reader who is a past-purchaser (online) of biographies of Blair, Churchill and the Clintons, missed promoting Flappers by Judith Mackrell to a past-purchaser (online) of a Zelda Fitzgerald biography and the letters of the Mitford sisters.
Personalisation : Why Algorithms need a Human Side
When you consider that what the algorithms didn’t deliver, the manager who arranges books on a table in the village bookshop was able to put right, then you can understand why information architects are keen to bring human serendipity into the algorithmic equations which, if successful,could be good news for readers like me. And that could become very important in future because right now the mid- to long-term outlook for the local village bookshop doesn’t look encouraging.
The trouble for bricks and mortar book retailers is that weekend browsers like me who have converted to ePub reading increasingly wait to purchase online. Yet,surely there must be opportunities to monetise the manager’s expertise and recommendations. If, for example, the village bookshop was picking up commission on my amazon purchases because I found the titles recommended there rather than on a book blog, that would be a beginning. New technologies like Apple’s Airdrop may be the key to unlock new models or at least become part of the mix along with launches, readings, book-related events and merchandising, coffee shops and so on. Let’s hope so because without innovation and diversification the village bookshop’s days are numbered and our choice of reading material will be the poorer for it.