Zebek Jumps into the Personalization Race

The next big battle among Web companies will be over personalization. The company that can get inside my head and deliver tailored recommendations or know what I want without being too stalkerish can walk away with a lot of money. We've seen how powerful that has been for such companies as Apple, Pandora, Amazon, and Netflix, with their recommendations for content. Now the race is on to see which company can be a go-to B2B provider for personalization and recommendation services.

Hunch has gotten a some press as it has moved to license its personalization taste graph technology. Yesterday, Gravity made its debut at the Web 2.0 Summit, offering to help websites leverage their users' interest graph. And my6Sense was launched earlier this year with apps that take a user's news feeds and personalize their stream. All these services can be used individually by users, but they're also being offered to websites and companies as a way to personalize their outreach to users.

Now add Zebek to the list of competitors. The Boston-area startup is coming out of stealth mode and is trumpeting its approach to targeting and personalization for mobile users. Zebek offers a platform that harvests a bunch of data, both personal and online, allowing companies to reach out to users and provide them with offers and recommendations. Zebek believes it is unique because it uses geo-location, collaborative filtering, social relevance, and sentiment analysis to help target users. Zebek focuses on mobile with a platform that works easily over SMS or a mobile browser.

Checking out Discounts

Zebek has signed up Clear Channel Malls as one of its first 25 customers. In three Clear Channel malls, customers interested in an item can send a text message to a short code with that item listed and see what discounts are offered. The mall can also include recommendations for other goods based on the user's past inquiries as well as other data pulled online about what similar users might like. Short codes seem a little behind the times considering the growth of scanner apps, but Zebek said it's helpful to reach non-smartphone users.

These are still early days, but expect personalization to be a live market. Chris Dixon, chief executive at Hunch, says many companies are looking to build these services in-house right now, but he expects many of them will turn to third-party providers to plug in personalization services. Hunch has signed up a handful of online sites and is talking to an online commerce site as well as a large travel site.

It's unclear if Zebek stands a better chance than others. What I do like about Zebek is its focus on mobile. Location is very much a key part of personalization, because context is key for mobile users. Take a look at what Google has done with HotPot, its enhancement to Places. The feature works with Google Maps on Android devices to help surface locations it thinks you might like. It may not be a Yelp killer, but it shows how personalization can take on new significance when you're out and about.

Another point in Zebek's favor is it's mindful of privacy concerns. The company said it makes user data anonymous and doesn't share any of it with third parties. After the brouhaha over Internet information aggregator Rapleaf, which Om has diligently followed, it's going to be important for all personalization companies to be up front about how they're gathering data on you and how they're using it. Personalization is only going to be a bigger trend in coming years. The only question is: Which company is going to provide the technology behind all of that targeting and recommendations?

Also from GigaOM:

Could Privacy Be Facebook's Waterloo? (subscription required)

Cord Cutters: NewTeeVee Live Edition, Cord-Cutting Activism

Photos: The World Debut of the Honda Fit EV

Why We Need PageRank for the Social Web

Carrier Organization Changes Rules to Allow the "Apple SIM"

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE