Relevant information, please!

As I write this, facebook is approaching 500 Mio users that have visited the website at least once in the last 30 days. A stellar number considering all the controversy surrounding privacy being discussed in newspapers, magazines and even groups on facebook.

I am sort of a facebook addict, I admit. But why is it so exciting for users world-wide if about 25% of people connected to the internet frequent that website so often? The answer is easy, it is relevant to them.
Facebook allows you to manage an information feed about stuff you truly care about. It is actually very comparable to the holy grail of search technology. There is so much information out there, increasing exponentially, that it is hard to find the right piece when it is needed.

If you do a search on google, bing or any of the search engine, you need really to cut through the clutter to get what you are really after.

Within the food industry, you can watch a lot of discussions about more information. PTI (Produce Traceability Intiative) is defining how we want to collect more information about the food supply chain, Phil Lempert recently commented on discussions on putting more information of foods on menus in restaurants and frequently our legislation is discussing putting more and more information on product labels, on shelf’s and on flyers that reach our households.
We are already in a situation, where the average person does not understand our food labels anymore. We are at the point, where we provide too much information and too many choices, making the actual shopping experience for our foods really challenging for the average consumer.

Different efforts, such as Harvestmark’s tracebility system and IBM’s Breadcrumbs application shall make even more information available for us as consumers. We really don’t need more information, we need information we care about.

Here is how I would envision the ‘shopping app’ of the future. First, I can personalize my filter. I can do that based on standardized product attributes. I can set, whether I care about ‘organic’, ‘locally grown’, absence or presence of certain ingredients and other filters. Once this filter is being set, I would like to cross reference exactly those product attributes with my local grocery stores, I would like to see who carries products and potentially at what price.

When I really would use my application on my smart phone to read a bar-code, I would like to be flagged, if any of my desired features is missing and which ones are present. I don’t want to read a poem about the product where I need to find the information I care for by reading 90% of information I do not care about at all.

Microsoft with its Bing engine is trying a different and new approach towards search on providing us with relevant information. I think the food industry and retail is facing very similar challenges. If we discuss more information we will head into TMI (too much information). We need to start the discussion on how all these information systems can be designed that they truly show information that is truly relevant to each individual, those information systems will provide the best shopping experience and enable consumers making smart buying decisions.

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