Barnes & Noble doesn’t only do books and tablets, it also does recommendations

I’m always intrigued to find out how digital businesses tackle the issue of user engagement through tailored recommendations. Content providers like Netflix and Amazon notoriously spend a lot of money and effort into their recommendation engines and it was interesting to find about how Barnes & Noble (‘B&N’) are now handling recommendations through their latest “NOOK” device.

Personalised recommendations are a though one to get right. I guess most of us have experiences with using Amazon to buy Christmas gifts and subsequently receiving recommendations on floral craft books during the rest of the year. With the NOOK, B&N introduces ‘Channels’ to try and address this issue:

  1. Based on personal interest – The idea behind creating specific ‘channels’ is to base each channel on a specific theme that’s likely to interest a group of customers. The titles of Nook’s existing 300+ channels vary from “Janes Austen & Heirs” to “International Intrigue.”
  2. How is each channel curated?  Each channel contains 40-50 titles, mostly curated by B&N booksellers but also taking into account algorithmic info and user data (e.g. customer profiles and purchasing behaviour). The channels currently only consist of books, but B&N are planning on including other content (like movies and apps) over time.
  3. Keeping it dynamic – Like I alluded to earlier to with regard to Amazon’s classic ‘floral craft’ example, B&N customers can improve the channels and books recommended to them by ‘liking’ or ‘not liking’ suggested titles. As new titles get released, B&N will add these to the relevant channels (or create new channels around them).

Main learning point: the idea of enabling users to discover new content through ‘channels’ is a great one. The ongoing challenge for content providers like Barnes & Noble is to get the content of each channel ‘right’. This means finding the right balance between human curation and automatically generated recommendations. The value of the ‘channel’ concept for users is that they can access a continuous stream of recommendations within a genre or a topic they like. For B&N, the value comes from being able to retain users (and retain their spend) through an ongoing selection of titles.

Related links for further learning:

How the iPad has overtaken the DVD player

Now that’s news! Today I learned that Apple’s iPad is poised to have the quickest adoption rate of any electronic device ever. What does this mean? Recent research shows that the iPad sold 3 million units in the first 80 days after its release in April, with a current sales rate estimated at 4.5 million units per quarter. This means that the iPad has surpassed the DVD-player as the quickest adopted electronic device ever. Just for the sake of comparison: the DVD-player only sold 350,000 units in its first year …

These extraordinary figures made me wonder about the reasons behind the iPad’s success. I don’t (yet) own an iPad myself so I have to rely on my limited experiences with the device and opinions from others. Clearly, the sales figures don’t lie, but there still seem to be 2 camps, let’s call them “advocates” and “skeptics”, who each have their own opinions about Apple’s latest success story.

Why the iPad will conquer the world? – 3 common arguments by the advocates:

  1. It’s Apple! – From the introduction of the iPhone, Apple definitely has got its users locked in tightly into its designated apps and services (the ‘Apple ecosystem’).
  2. It’s user friendly – Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, the user experience on the iPad and other Apple devices is easy and consistent.
  3. It’s got the “first-mover advantage” – Apple was the first to bring touch-screen technology to a mobile device and it hasn’t looked back since.

Why the iPad won’t conquer the world? – 3 common arguments by the skeptics:

  1. Look at its limitations! – An often heard criticism is that the iPad is only good for entertainment purposes; you’re stuck if you want to do anything beyond email or simple word processing.
  2. The competition is catching up rapidly – Tablets by the likes of Cisco, Samsung and BlackBerry are catching up rapidly, concentrating on some of the functions the iPad is currently lacking (e.g. camera, expendable memory and built-in phone).
  3. Android will become the standard – As an operating system Google’s Android is more versatile and will be implemented across a wide range of tablet devices. Android will thus become the default operating system for tablets.

Main learning point: the iPad has done phenomenally well in the first 7 months of its existence. It will be interesting to see how the iPad will continue to perform and if any of its competitors will be able to catch up. Also, will some of the “skeptics” turn out to be right in their prediction that Android will become the default tablet operating system? It all remains to be seen, watch this space!

Related links for further learning: