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'Adaptive' web could anticipate your whims


Brad Howarth

Web companies want to preempt your desires.

Web companies want to preempt your desires.

The next evolution of the web is making its presence felt in Australia. And this time, it's personal.

Called the "adaptive web", it involves the spontaneous creation of personalised web pages, based on voluntarily-entered data, browser cookies and "fingerprinting" software that identifies returning visitors.

Adaptive content has been most commonly used by online publishers and online advertisers, and by larger retailers to display personalised recommendations based on a customer's previous online behaviour.

Now, more Australian retailers are using data to personalise their sites, and the concept is spilling into other sectors. Ultimately, it may lead to websites that are entirely customised.

Willie Pang, chief executive of digital services agency Amplify, said adaptive content was being investigated by many Australian companies outside of retail, particularly in financial services. Often, they were being held back by inflexible content management systems that made rapid page customisation difficult.

"Over the next one or two years we are going to see a fairly pervasive upgrading of the core platforms that drive the web experiences," Pang said.

At Suncorp, the executive manager of group digital strategy and innovation, Murray Howe, said adaptive content was part of his company's strategy.

"My understanding is that in the banking space, all of us are looking to do something, but no one is there yet," Howe said. "What's holding it back is the complexity in the data environments."

Tailoring websites to suit individuals is one manifestation of the concept of Big Data, in which the masses of data generated by individuals is used to discern information about them.

According to Nigel Peach, ANZ sales manager for specialist data company Servian, the quality of data available has allowed companies to cater for increasingly smaller customer segments. The key to success, he said, is to create a personalised experience in the time it takes for the screen to refresh.

"The challenge here is a technical one, which is how granular is the data that you catch," Peach said. "Everybody is looking at it, but everybody is still getting their head into it."

Online retailers, meanwhile, are powering ahead with adaptive content.

Chief executive of the Australian online department store, Rolf Krecklenberg, said his company recently introduced new forms of personalisation on its site and direct marketing emails to give added buying incentives to repeat customers.

"It is about making it really attractive for them to purchase the recommended product," Krecklenberg said.

The company's marketing director, James Mooring, said the system relied on the customer clicking through from a customised email. Possible changes could include product recommendations or a birthday greeting.

"Because we know the reason they have come to the site, we can start to personalise elements of the site," Mooring said.

He said had witnessed improved click-through rates from emails and increased sales conversion.

"There have been over 30 customised versions of the site created thus far and thousands of individual variations in emails with unique content included in each one," Mooring said.

The online specialty store Le Domaine is also using adaptive content to deliver recommendations, based on previous pages visited and items purchased, blended with data from other people's past activities.

General manager Andrew Chak said personalisation worked best when a consumer did not realise it was happening.

"All the customer can see on the website are things that appeal to him or her, without even realising," Chak said.

He said that while most Australia retailers were still in their infancy in terms of personalisation – Le Domaine included – he had big plans.

"Entire page designs could be different depending on where the customer came to our site from," Chak said.


  • Adaptive content is hardly new, it isn't around because basically it is a failure. You see it treats information technology usage as a solo and selfish activity, when in reality it is a social one.

    Think about how people come together the day after a TV show and discuss what they watched. The fact that we watched the same content meant we could turn it into a social event.

    Customising can be good, but socialising can be far better.

    Date and time
    November 21, 2012, 10:12AM
    • Hahaha, not once did this piece mention that the other that could be adaptive is price of things you want to buy.
      I believe Amazon does this already,
      Well known online buyer, a bit price insensitive - they will know.
      Welcome to the future, please make sure your credit details are up to date,

      Date and time
      November 21, 2012, 11:26AM
      • Adaptive, or invasive? What this really means is that marketers want to steer you towards products and services they think you're more likely to buy - regardless of how you might feel at the time. Most of them don't plan on giving you the choice about what personal data they capture and store surreptitiously while you are using the internet.

        Its a double-edged sword - on one hand you may think its great because the computer will 'know what you want', but on the other you may think its intrusive and scary because you feel your privacy has been invaded.

        Commercially, it is a good idea - but only if there are enough safeguards to protect even the most naive and inexperienced of web users from allowing personal information that they don't want you to have being commercially. Right now, there are too many concerns about privacy on the net, and not all of them are being addressed. Governments don't know how to legislate to protect their citizens, so in the meantime we have to rely on learning how to protect ourselves in the internet jungle.

        Date and time
        November 21, 2012, 12:19PM
        • Unfortunately, collection of data already happens everywhere. Banks have a goldmine of it - they know all your transactions. So do supermarkets if you ever use their loyalty card programs. So does Google, whenever you do search, log onto gmail etc. Statisitcally, it is not difficult to infer all types of things from the collected data. And it is even more "useful" when the data is linked, which is the current frontier of research. E.g., if supermarket data is linked to Facebook data, then the system might recognise you are holding a party soon (from Facebook) and recommend party supplies you have bought before (supermarket) or particular snacks because some of your friends like them (Facebook + supermarket data).

          To be honest, I am not sure why The Age is writing an article about something that is at least 10 years old. It probably demonstrates yet again that Aus. businesses are ultra conservative and only deploy mature technologies.

          Data Scientist
          Date and time
          November 21, 2012, 2:27PM
        • I love the quote "volutarily-entered data." Like how every site these days needs you to register and provide your details before you can see anything. Imagine if Coles or woolies required you to show your driver's license at the front door, all in the name of making it easier at the checkout. Oh wait, they just get your details in more (not) subtle ways: "Do you have an everyday rewards card?."

          Date and time
          November 22, 2012, 4:17PM
      Comments are now closed

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