We’ve long been able to personalize what information the Internet tells us — but now comes “Web site morphing,” and an Internet that personalizes how we like to be told. For companies, it means that communicating — and selling — will never be the same.
People process information in different ways, known as “cognitive styles.” A few companies are starting
to test Web sites that dynamically adapt to the cognitive styles of visitors–so that visitors receive
information in a style that is comfortable for them. For example, a Web site could “morph” to offer
additional technical details about a product to a user who has an analytic cognitive style, while a visitor
who has a holistic cognitive style would receive information in a way that decreased complexity.
Such “morphing” has the potential to increase the effectiveness of Web communications. A recent study
involving a Web site from which consumers could purchase broadband services found that, when the Web site adapted–or morphed–to match individual consumers’ cognitive styles, the company could increase potential purchases by 20%. As part of that study, the researchers first conducted a priming study, in which they surveyed a sample of the site’s visitors to identify their cognitive styles directly. By then analyzing those visitors’ preferences in navigating the Web site, the site could infer from a subsequent visitor’s clicks what type of cognitive style he or she has–and accordingly adjust how information is communicated on the site. While there are many dimensions of cognitive style that could be used, the authors found the following distinctions to be effective: analytic or holistic, impulsive or deliberative, visual or verbal, and leader or follower. From a technical perspective, Web site morphing relies on methods known as the Bayesian Inference Engine and Gittins indices. After the priming study, a Web site morphing system continues to learn from each additional visitor, so that the effectiveness of the site’s morphing strategy improves over time.