Amazon.com: A Repository of Perfect Information?

Posted by: Olga Kharif on March 29, 2005

I recently asked Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels about new features he is working on for his site. He told me he is striving to provide consumers with “perfect information”: He wants the site to know who you are, what you like, and what you are looking for – so he can sell it to you.

Been there, done that, you might say. After all, Amazon has long offered us recommendations on what books to buy. When we log on, the site already greets past shoppers by name. Yet, “I believe we are at the very beginning of personalization,” says Vogels, who also writes a blog. “I think we can take it to a way higher level.” He envisions personalization that’s a lot deeper than anything we’ve seen to date, and that can completely change the way Amazon works – and the way we shop.

Here's how this would work: Amazon.com might eventually provide a wealth of product reviews and articles. People will go to Amazon to do their research, not just to shop. But as they do so, Amazon’s search engine’s wheels would keep on turning, analyzing searches and trying to suggest products the users might want to buy. If you’ve been researching how to rid your dog of fleas, the search engine might suggest the perfect flea collar.

That’s the tip of an iceberg where such functionalities are concerned. In the future, Amazon might provide a doctor searching for information about a medication with a link to one Web site, while a patient would be sent to a different site, containing the same data sans the scientific gibberish, says Vogels. Of course, the success of such searches will be predicated on Amazon’s knowing exactly who you are.

Whether consumers would be willing to reveal more information about themselves remains to be seen (privacy advocates are already screaming bloody murder), but all e-commerce sites are dumping the big bucks into this kind of personalization right now. It’s one of top innovation priorities at Amazon. Ditto for Yahoo, which already allows people to create their own, custom Internet radio stations by telling Yahoo whether they like or hate particular songs. With more and more new Web sites debuting every day, the heavyweights are trying to make their sites easier to use and, as a result, “stickier.”

What’s interesting is, Vogels believes Amazon will get close to providing users with perfect information within five to 10 years. That’s not that far off.

I could certainly use some help sifting through the Internet debris already.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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