Thursday, January 12, 2006

We have the technology...

Ok, Google, pay attention. This is my next awesome free business idea. People want to be notified of news that interests them, right? So imagine a system where people specify exactly what they want to know, and you tell them that information.

For free.

Along with, of course, very targeted advertising. Someone has to pay the bills.

"Tell me a week before the new Sopranos season starts."
"Let me know next time the Dell 2001 FP is on sale for less than $450."
"I want all news and gossip relating to the cast of the original Star Trek."

I'm not talking about "areas of interest," I'm talking about very specific requests. I don't want to register for "Entertainment News," or even a search string. I want to be able to fully describe all kinds of information and sleep easy knowing that powerful forces are working for me.

This is, of course, the original promise of the Intelligent Agent concept. An AI scours the network for you, and when you wake up it tells you all you need to know. We never got there. Now, with information powerhouses like Google holding all the data and trying to figure out what to do with it, maybe it's possible to approach this problem?

Granted, allowing free-text requests from the entire user base would be disastrous. But you can start with focused specific requests, and generic search strings, and work your way upwards? You begin with trying to model the questions people might ask, and figuring out ways to answer.

The three questions I've put up above are all very feasible with current technology. And once I've registered them, I get periodic ads or targeted email letting me know of things which might interest me. You can't go overboard here, but targeted ads here would probably have a high rate of return. "You asked to be notified when Rush tickets went on sale in your area. While we don't have any news on that, we do think you might want to know about their new DVD set, which you can buy for 40% off by following this link...."

Done poorly, you've just got people signing up for targeted ads.

Done well, you've got a rich subscription service for the entire web. I'd opt-in.

What's more fascinating is the other side of this coin ... the user-modeling approach where Google tracks your blog posts, your searches, your emails ... and takes the initiative. "Hey, Dave, interested in this special offer for this monitor?" "Wow, how'd you know?" "We know. We know everything." People would complain, but ... doesn't it almost appeal to you?

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