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Web 2.0 Personalization... To What Extend?

When you are developing a social community service, like IRateMyDay.com, you get to ask yourself a lot of questions, like these:

  • How can I make the service easy to use?
  • How will my users personalize their profiles?
  • What kind of personalization will I allow?
  • How will personalization affect the overall usability of the site?

Because, like chocolate, too little personalization is like too much.

In Web 2.0 sites, the trend is to personalize, personalize and personalize.  Personalize everything and anything.  Don't like your profile image?  Upload yours.  Don't like the menu on the left side of the page? Move it to the right page.

My big concern is: how can we allow personalization without losing control?

Take MySpace for example.  I just can't enjoy visiting most profiles on this blogging service.  Users just put everything they can in the page, and loading their profiles takes forever, let alone that my CPU just hangs at 100%.

Personally, I tend to think this: the more you allow, the more people ask for.  Users are never completely satisfied of what they have and always want more.  So, one day or the other, you have to make choices.

In my case, I made the choice at start.  Take the profile picture, for example.  Like all other Web 2.0 sites, I could have chosen to allow users to upload their own images.  But instead, I decided that I would limit users to selecting an image in a list I provide myself.  You might say that this is crazy, that people want to truly express themselves with their own stuff.  To this, I answer:

  • Since the start of the service, I only received 1 email asking if I would allow uploading of custom images. If this was really an important feature, I would have gotten a lot more emails.
  • Overall site conformity is priceless. The reason that IRateMyDay works so well is that the site is clean and easy to user, thanks to solid design decisions.
  • If you limit the user from the start, he/she has already made their mind about how your product works.  And they will live with the way it works.

So, what I'm saying is this: give the user some good usage guidelines while still providing enough customization so that he can enjoy your site.  But don't go over the line and start loosing control of your service.  This is the only way that you can sustain the growth of your product.


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