How do websites go about collecting information about what their users are interested in buying? One is asked to answer a number of carefully drafted questions. Answers to these questions are used by web sites to determine how best to customize your shopping experience. This form of information gathering is called explicit profiling. The advantage of this approach is that the user is forthcoming with the information. No guesses required. The disadvantage is that in this day and age, people are over-cautious about the information they provide to online vendors. Often enough, responses to some of the questions may be false.
Explicit Profiling and the Anonymous User
If web sites personalize using only the explicit profile, then personalization might not be effective and, infinitely worse, might backfire on them and they might start losing users. Explicit profiles are created only for users willing to register with the web site. This effectively rules out personalized shopping experience for users not registered with the site (known as Anonymous users). The pitfall to this is that there is a major disparity between the experience of a registered user and an anonymous user. Anonymous users should be treated as prospective registrants. A good shopping experience for anonymous users might lure them to register with the site. An explicit profile will then be created for them.
Another approach to determine user interest is capturing click-stream data as the user navigates through the site. Click-stream is information on what pages a user viewed, what searches were performed and which links were clicked. This information can be captured for both anonymous and registered users. In the case of anonymous users, the click-stream can be used to perform some amount of personalization. In the case of registered users, click-stream data can be used to fine-tune the user’s interests. Click-stream data is an implicit way of capturing user information.
The Power of Two
In the context of determining user interests, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They go hand-in-hand and complement each other. When used effectively these prove to be potent weapons. In explicit profile creation, the online registration form is not just any odd form to capture information. The questions presented to the user should be limited enough in order to minimize the time required to complete the registration process while being succinct enough to gather as much information as possible. A lot of planning is required in drafting an effective registration form. In the implicit click-stream approach, within a few minutes of turning on click-stream data capture, the amount of data captured will be huge. Careful analysis of terabytes of data is required to glean knowledge from the captured data. Poor analysis of click-stream almost always leads to poor personalization.
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