A presentation by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer, Advertising and Online, Microsoft UK
I have seen Dave present before. This was new material, engagingly and thought provokingly delivered. The near term future will, it seems, see an amplification of the trends and buzzwords that we are already seeing played with – mobile, big data, apps: the web of things, people and places, blurring the distinction between the real and digital worlds. Reality augmented.
For this to work, we need ever more powerful processing and a better understanding of identity. This is the crux of things – personalisation not just on a ‘once searched for dog food, quick deliver more dog related stuff’, but split into four domains of context: emotional state (happiness, sadness, anger); social context (who you are with); environmental context (place and time of day); and reaction to current states of the World.
And of course, the mobile is at the heart of all of this. Personalised computing in a small, pocket sized package. All of our friends, contacts, preferences in one small package.
This ability to tap into, and react to, identity in the moment raises some important questions.
As humans, we cope best with small, incremental changes – advances on where we are already rather than complete shifts. (Dave references the QWERTY keyboard in this context – a keyboard designed to slow us up, yet familiar and therefore currently used.)
And, of course, privacy. And so, argues Coplin, it is incumbent upon those of us concerned with the development of the web to make sure that consumers who trust us with their information get value in return; that when we ask for data we are clear about how it will be used and what the benefit is for the user. Privacy, he points out, is highly personal, and people’s expectations change as we deliver value.
His analogies extend into all kinds of areas – once we set an expectation with children, for example, that things will be voice controlled, they expect it of ever more devices.
So his challenge to us is this: empower others. Take the user on a journey that delights, that raises the bar, that sets their expectations higher. Ask what value you bring – think human and be human. The technology can develop around it.
Post presentation questions
I caught up with Coplin after his presentation.
My first question was from a user perspective. If what is delivered is always perfectly tailored to a narrow set of ‘knowns’ about an individual, what happens to serendipity? For our search experience, will it mean a less rich journey, with a more highly filtered result?
Coplin has evidently been asked this before. We never be able to predict perfectly, all of the time. There is he notes, always a need for an element of randomness. It’s what we do with it, how we relate to it, the intelligence we apply to it that creates the serendipity.
My second question was from the point of view of the information provider on the web. If we have to guess when and why people are looking, if the search result is ever narrower, should we providing information in ever more specific formats, playing to each possible user scenario?
For the answers to this, we must look at where Microsoft is playing. Whilst Google has set out to create its own identity network, it is learning all the while from Facebook. It is trying to answer the user intent problem. Combine this with Windows IDs and Outlook identities (Coplin refers to ‘federated identities), and it’s hard to bet against Microsoft making at least some partial inroads into delivering a more personalised user experience.
If the rest of Microsoft is as conscious as Coplin of the potential to freak the user out, if it can deliver this experience in a useful and meaningful way, it’s hard not to see them as genuine contenders for a growing piece of Google’s search pie.