Overwhelmed by the choice of web and mobile content—ranging from news services to video clips—users increasingly gravitate to services that are designed from the ground up to give them content before they ask for it.
Put simply, the business model is no longer about user pull. Pull is built on the premise that users know what they want and are prepared to go look for it. That's quite an assumption when it comes to fast-paced content such as entertainment and multimedia, which changes faster than users can keep up. The model also ignores the rise of empowered customers who increasingly expect content and services consistently tailored to their individual needs and in tune with their lifestyles and life stages.
The new paradigm is personalized content: push based on a deep understanding of the individual's purchases, passions, and past click-behavior. It's even more compelling if the technology can learn users' likes and dislikes over time to dynamically and consistently deliver the right content mix.
Lifetime learning is at the core of the path-breaking personalization technology developed by Leiki, a Finnish developer of intelligent web and mobile services. The company offers a patented technology that combines real-time learning, profiling, and personalization to help users explore cool content, via the web and mobile, that they might never have known existed.
To close the loop, Leiki has also developed a standards-based ontology of more than 30,000 categories spanning a multitude of sources and a variety of languages. This allows Leiki to develop extremely granular user profiles and choose the content that fits. It also allows Leiki to tackle the "cold-start" problem that blocks most systems from suggesting content items until they have been chosen or purchased by a large number of users. Companies that sell niche or short shelf-life content often hover under the radar. Leiki allows companies to recommend content to users purely on the basis of how well it matches the individual user's interests.
In other applications, Leiki figures out the user's mood—based on their actions or context—and suggests content and services that match. "Adapting the user interface according to mood, which we can figure out based on our ontology and behavior, allows the content company to take advantage of the moment," observes Petrus Pennanen, CEO and founder of Leiki. A user who makes a note about a workout session, for example, may appreciate a content-push of energetic tracks or health and fitness information.
"It's a bit like an electronic-content concierge that faithfully delivers what you want—without you having to ask for it," he adds. The system also finds users whose preferences are similar, playing matchmaker between users who share interests and may want to hook up to talk about them. This may all sound like a nice-to-have feature on a PC, but it's a must-have in the mobile space where device limitations, such as small screen size and tiny keypads, are turning up the pressure on content companies to provide easy and intuitive access to relevant content.
Against this backdrop, Leiki is gaining traction among brands such as the Financial Times, which uses it to dynamically deliver news according to the user's past usage and preferences. The application features the latest FT.com articles with pictures, a news index, and a personalized area where articles are collected.
Chris Osborne, who heads online business development at FT.com, is convinced adaptive personalization technology will be a feature of all content delivery going forward. "Simply by reading news, the service learns the user's interests and delivers the content most relevant to them to their mobile phone." The integrated ticker also encourages users to explore the news and topics and delve deeper into the content they like.
In the case of Sina.com, a Chinese web portal similar to Yahoo!, Leiki's news application also provides an additional channel to the customer by providing the brand with a constant presence on the handset and a mobile interface for communicating with the individual user by inputting relevant announcements or promotions, which appear on the ticker in real time.
The increasing importance of personalization also exposes the fatal flaws of popular search engines like Google. They were designed to treat all searches—and searchers—equal, an approach that ignores the needs of individual users for relevant results that really matter. Moving forward, content companies can't afford to rely on search and user pull to clinch the deal; they will have to push content to users based on the clues they leave, such as their reading patterns, their viewing preferences, and their download history.