Personalization is not new. Think of a personal shopper or tailor. Why do you keep going to the same one? Because they know you, they know your measurements, they know what fashion styles you like and don't like, and they are able to deliver what you want quickly and effectively. You are rewarded with better than average service and the vendor is rewarded with repeat business?a mutual benefit for both parties. The same concept applies to many other services you might require, including realtors, barbers, auto mechanics, and others.
The development of the Internet changed software development forever. Web sites that began as brochures and media publications began to evolve into applications. Software applications that were traditionally shipped once a year on CD now are delivered over the Internet and mixed with relevant content that is updated continuously. These developments spurred the term transactive content to describe this new medium. In this new, always-on, always-connected medium, it is possible to enhance product offerings using personalization techniques borrowed from traditional direct marketing: the collection and analysis of data about who users are, what their preferences are, and what they have actually purchased in the past. Opportunities that were never available previously are now possible because of personalization and profiling. For example, suppose that of the people who bought Stephen King's last book, 20 percent purchased it from Amazon.com. Amazon.com has a direct relationship with each of those customers. It might make sense for them to approach Stephen King and say, "Write your next book and we will publish it." In principle, the reader gets a cheaper book, and Amazon.com and Stephen King keep a much larger percentage of each sale.
In a mobile location services application, personalization becomes even more interesting. You might recall our earlier discussion about location services being one component of a new class of opportunities that are based on a user's context. This context includes not only where a user might be, but also when he or she is using an application and what his or her role in using that application is. Role can be derived from time, location, and other factors to help understand if someone is using an application as an employee, mother, or one of many other potential roles. The answer to a given question when a user is operating in the role of software engineer is likely to be very different from the answer given when a user is operating as general manager or father.
The term user profiling often raises concern over privacy abuses. Personalization is not possible without profiling. A major benefit of good technology is that it allows the individual using it to be more efficient and more effective. Trust is a critical factor, and the importance of trust cannot be underestimated. If users are comfortable that their information is not going to be stolen or abused, if they trust the service provider, there are real benefits to participating in a profiling and personalization relationship. Specific privacy issues and industry self-regulation initiatives are discussed later in this chapter in more detail.