The potential gain and danger of personalizing content

Localization has moved beyond language these days and integrated with personalisation. Algorithms make choices for you in the background based on your IP, your computers language settings, the websites you recently visited and more to personalize the content you are presented with.

While it clearly helps us find what we are looking for and saves us a lot of time and effort in our everyday lives, the disadvantages are significant. We’re kept inside our mental bubbles, inside our cultural horizon and inside our nations language. We’re more likely to see content fitting into our world view and less likely to be challenged by opposing opinions. We’re thus less likely to discover new insights, new opinions or just simply to broaden our horizons. You could argue we are being culturally isolated by computers.

Another interesting phenomenon is about language skills. Teenagers growing up while the internet was already popular but not yet localized or personalized, developed, besides a broader world view, better language skills. Learning a second or third language was a positive side effect, because the content they liked often was not available in their language. We can still see this with “Anime” and Japanese, but for the most part, everything is easily available in every language owing to automated translation.

Teenagers today have to be tech-savvy to break out of the “language lock” they’re put in by algorithms, deterring them from exploring foreign cultures and languages.

As developers, publishers and marketers we have a responsibility to make it less comfortable to live inside a bubble. Intercultural communication is an essential part in world peace — something we are in dire need for currently.

Especially developers in large nations with one language like the US and parts of modern China tend to localize based on personal assumptions. Everything gets translated, even slogans and sometimes brand names get localized. But localization is more than translating everything, localization can mean consciously choosing to present one peace of content in a mix of languages, with quotes intact and book titles untouched.

Of course some localizations are useful, I don’t speak mandarin, I can’t read arabic and I would not understand a Norwegian film without subtitles — but I would not watch it with voice-over.

We need to rethink localization and personalization. These modern advances in publishing have to leave room for exploration. We cannot allow algorithms to filter out all the challenging opinions we might dislike. Lets work together on building a new kind of personalization, one ensuring we don’t fall asleep in our bubbles of personalized bliss.