The original version of this article can be seen at the Capgemini – Capping IT Off blog.

Personalised and predictive navigation features have been around for a while. No need to look further than Amazon.com’s “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” and “New For You” panels.

They are great selling tools. One is based relationships between products; the other based on your previous purchases. Both are based on the products’ or the users’ historical digital footprints within the environment controlled by the company in question.

Your friendly neighbourhood navigation

But what if the next generation of navigation tools could suggest products based on knowing what is of interest to user right now? What if the navigation could behave like a friend of the user?

Users are increasingly sharing their thoughts, tastes and opinions with their friends online and often in public digital spaces which results in a nuanced picture of what is on their minds right now.

Tools such as Radian 6 can listen and digest social sentiment by understand things like how many liked a product or didn’t like it. And if they didn’t; what did they not like about it?

It is an overview of what the many say about a few things. But could this be turned upside down and look at what the individual say about many things?

An example of social navigation

A user visits a website selling DVDs. She has never been to the site before, but at the promise of receiving a personalised experience she decides to identify herself to the site. This could be as simple as entering her name or by connecting to her social profiles using functions like Facebook Connect or the Twitter API.

As she submits her details the site sweeps the web for any content created or associated with the user and it notices that she recently have made positive comments about the new movie “Drive” as well as showed interest in learning more about other Danish movies.

With this information the website can now suggest other movies by Danish “Drive” Director Nicolas Winding Refn as well as other similar Danish movies. The site effectively listened to the user’s online voice as her friends would and started a relevant conversation by replying back in context.

Creating a subliminal personalised experience

As a real friend, the website is not just listening to the words, it is also paying attention or other communication signals such as music preferences, ‘Likes’ given etc. As the website sweeps the Internet it finds a range of photos uploaded by the user and notices that she has uploaded several photos of blue skies and green fields.

The website reacts on this information and modifies its own visual appearance to match in a sky blue and nature green colour scheme. It may even have a nice header photograph of a blue sky in its repertoire. By mimicking the user’s preferred photography subject the site makes itself more appealing in a way not that dissimilar from human behaviour.

Final thoughts

Facebook has recently been under fire for monitoring the behaviour of users without being transparent about its activities and motives. While their services may be beneficial for companies and users alike, not being transparent only nurtures suspicion.

Creating social navigation features as described above need to be done in a transparent fashion and with the customers having full control over what they share and are fully informed about the process and what the benefits are. As soon as that trust is established a true friendship can be formed to the benefit of both the seller and the buyer.

How was it for you?

If you liked it, please share the love.