Writing a book is not for the faint of heart. Or the easily distracted. It is a sizable undertaking. You have to make sure you have enough to say, in terms of quantity and value. 

The Personalization Paradox was the result of an epiphany I had one day. I was on a conference call with my co-author, Regina Lynn Preciado and my graphic designer, Kiam McQuaid. It was right around Christmas time of 2019. Things at work were slow. 

I started talking about the inter-relatedness of words, sentences, paragraphs, components, and outputs. We bantered some ideas and an image of a Russian matryoshka (nesting) doll made its appearance in the back of my brain. I started realizing that in order to be truly mix-and-matchable, all aspects of content needed to be standardized. From small to large: words, sentences, paragraphs, components, and outputs. Or, from large to small: Outputs, components, paragraphs, sentences, and words. And that the only way to create truly reusable content is to follow standards.

I often find that using an analogy helps people gain a better understanding of a concept. At first, I thought the nesting doll concept made a lot of sense. I even started writing chapters using it as the primary metaphor. But the more I thought about it, the less confident I was that I could carry that analogy through in a meaningful way. 

I happened to be remodeling one of the rooms in my house while all of this deep thinking occurred. One evening, I was busy looking at bathroom faucets. There are literally hundreds of faucets out there. There are dozens of companies that manufacture faucets. Isn’t it amazing that I can choose ANY one of these faucets and it is guaranteed to work? I pondered this information for a while and realized that the reason I can mix-and-match faucets is because plumbing fixtures are governed by standards. There is an ANSI standard that defines the diameter of the pipe, the number of threads in the fitting, and so on. 

“AHA!” I thought. This is exactly like content. If I want to mix-and-match content, that content needs to follow standards. I was definitely on to something here. There are standards for plumbing, standards for electrical, standards upon standards. Thus, I can create a totally personalized house that uses a combination of fixtures unique to my tastes.

But personalized, custom houses are not scalable. And they are expensive. And they take a very long time to build. Apartments, on the other hand, standardize everything. I grew up in a large apartment community in NYC. Every apartment had the same…well…everything: doorknobs, sinks, faucets, floors, lights, everything. The only way to personalize an apartment is to hang pictures (don’t forget to fill in the nail holes when you leave) and decorate. This is exactly the type of content that almost all companies have created historically. One size fits all content.

Finally, this led me to thinking about the plethora of planned housing communities that are popping up all over suburbia. Pick your floor plan from four choices, select a faucet from six available options, and so on. Bingo – This is exactly how we scale personalized content. Using standards and selecting from a pre-defined set of topics, we combine components to create personalized output. 

As the team continued to discuss the book, the pieces of the puzzle started coming together. Why structure matters. How standardization allows you to personalize at scale. Why Big Data is important. How artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced technologies will play a big role in the future. 

There’s nothing like holding a copy of your newly published book. I was so excited to pull my copy of The Personalization Paradox out of the box. I have to admit, holding a physical book is a much more exciting experience than holding my Kindle having downloaded a copy. It was a great feeling of accomplishment. Even though this is my fourth book, I feel that I’ve put so much of what I’ve learned over the past 30 years into it. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty proud of this one. 

That the book has been so well-received is even more satisfying. Leaders in the content industry gave their time and energy to reviewing the book before and after it was published. I am so grateful for their expertise and support. 

If you’d like your very own copy of The Personalization Paradox (either printed or electronic), just click here. Please let me know what you think!

Happy reading,

Val

Val Swisher
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