PrefPass makes anonymous personalization easy

logoPrefPass is a new project aimed to offer users a personalized experience on a wide variety of sites without giving up personal information or going through tedius registration forms. It will also let site publishers deliver more targeted content and advertising without being intrusive towards their readers. It’s a very cool idea; if you like, a site for pooling dummy accounts to news sites that require account registration, then you’ll really like PrefPass. It’s a win-win situation for everyone who participates.

PrefPass, which is currently in private beta, was developed by Adam Marsh of San Francisco. You can request a beta account on the home page.

Users provide URLs of sites they associate themselves with, like their blogs or their favorite sites to read. The categories and tags found in those site, presumably from other sources as well, are grabbed as “prefs” or things you are interested in. When you visit a web site that is participating in PrefPass, you can click a button on that site to grant a pass for the site to view your prefs or interests. The site can then serve up a variety of customized content, ranging from recommended blog posts for that site, recommended blog posts all around the web, news search results via Yahoo! or, of course, advertising contextual to your personal preferences.

screen shotSite publishers receive reports detailing the interests of their site’s visitors who have granted a PrefPass. The image here is from the sidebar of my personal blog,, and lists posts recommended to me after I identified myself as interested in TechCrunch and granted a PrefPass to view my interests.

There are little things that would be nice to see changed before the service leaves beta, like it would be good for the list of recommended posts to only appear after users have granted a site a PrefPass – right now site visitors not logged in are seeing all the most recent posts. It would also be nice to have more control over the number of items that appear in any of these widgets. If the search/RSS/javascript play here could be as smooth as using Peter Cooper’s FeedDigest, that would be great.

It’s quite a smart system. The javascript respects each site’s CSS, there’s a nice variety of widgets available to publishers and the basic idea really seems to benefit both sides of the reader/publisher equation. The fact that your anonymity is maintained while the system proves that you are a real person with real interests is great. Prefpass makes it painless, almost fun, for readers to allow publishers to offer personalized, targeted content.

The service’s business model doesn’t appear to have been identified yet, but there is clearly no shortage of directions that could go. If the revenue generation part of things is pulled off well, and the system can go viral, I think PrefPass could be a big winner. BugMeNot is a minor annoyance to site publishers and isn’t super convenient for users – but it’s in every one’s interest to get PrefPass spread around.