Implicit Personalization on

I followed a link from PhotoMatt this morning over to and noticed a very cool feature they have over there: Upon visiting the front page, the site immediately redirected me to “” and showed me information local to the Seattle area (where I live) even though I had never been there before and never entered any geographic information.

How cool.

A quick glance at the address bar told me exactly what what going on. The complete url is listed below:

“Guess=true”. Very nice. So what’s happening is that Tribe is looking up my IP address in a table and mapping it to the Seattle area. We use IP lookup tables at Disney all the time for targeted advertising purposes, but I’d never seen someone actually use them to redirect you to a localized version of their site. I’m sure it’s been done before, but I’d just never seen it.

One of the hardest things to do in the web business is to get users to actually use personalization options (as counterintuitive as that sounds), and by performing this first personalization step implicitly and automatically, Tribe provides users better information without forcing them to ask for it. Smart.

25 comments on “Implicit Personalization on”. Leave your own?
  1. Mike Purvis says:

    It is smart… I hadn’t yet noticed this type of behaviour in the content of a site, but I had seen it in the advertising on less scrupulous domains. (“Adult personals are waiting for ME in Toronto…”)

    Is it possible that Google does the same thing? Or is that just the Google Cookie getting set when I first visit

  2. louis says: does this as well.

    where do they get a table of ips relating to region? is this public information?

  3. Eric says:

    I think google does it for Canada, but i’m not 100% sure…

  4. Trent says:

    I’ve only seen this data as privately purchased information, as available from data collections services like ip2location.

    If anyone knows any different… such customization would be a great open-source utility.

  5. I recently suspected that Google might be doing this with AdSense. On Malarkey’s site, for example, the ads mentioned “Kansas Web Design”. I live in Wichita, but Malarkey is in the UK, and his site mentions nothing of Great Plains, America.

  6. Rodrigo says:

    ip-to-country offers a csv file that relates ip ranges to country codes. I think it’s for free.

    Chris, Google does target their ads by location. It’s even one of the options when creating a new ad. We’ve targeted our PHP interniship advertisemet that way. Alas, no answers yet.

  7. Mike D. says:

    IP-to-country is nice, but getting down to the city level is really the key. I know Digital Envoy offers a service to do this for you, but it’s not free.

  8. Mark Huot says:

    You also could use a PHP script to query a whois server and get the users ZIPCODE then using publicly available data get the city and state from that. The only problem is that whois servers are not as reliable as they used to be for returning accurate information. Also, if a person is using AOL their IP may not map back to their local address.

    (Editor’s Note: Interesting idea, but wouldn’t this take quite awhile to execute? I think you’d probably need to be in possession of the table in advance so that all it takes to get what you need is a quick DB lookup.)

  9. Chris says:

    It’s a nice idea but it is not full proof.

    I live in England and it thinks i’m from San Fan… not sure how that happened?

    This would work well on Yahoo, news sites, weather sites etc etc.

  10. Chris Gwynne says:

    Chris, the same happens for me. Nice feature to have but it’s not great.

  11. Tony says:

    Some time ago I visited from my work computer, and it was provided targeted information about discounts for employees of my company, including the company name, even though I had never been there before. I thought that was a great use of IP information.

    Visited today and didn’t see the same thing, so I don’t know if they stopped doing it, or if my company no longer has discounts, or what.

  12. Trent says:

    Other than WHOIS, is there any other available process used to grab information (region, company) via IP? Or are these “geo-locator-blah data collection companies” simply cataloguing this public information and reselling it?

  13. Jordan says:

    It got my state right, but it didn’t give me my city/town. Guess it’s just not populous enough ’round here…

  14. Mark Payne says:

    I noticed the same thing through the same link. I was quite impressed.

  15. Kevin Cheng says:

    The problem is the many countries have major ISPs that route themselves through North America because the infrastructure is more established there and can sometimes yield better results. This has often been suggested as a solution for internationalization where sites have global offices but while guessing right is great, guessing wrong is really really bad because you can’t guarantee the visitor even noticed that you tried to guess.

    And yes, Google tries the same. I’ve seen google Hong Kong, UK and Canada all pulled up at the various locations I’ve opened my browser of late.

  16. waylan says:

    Yeah, they got the state right for me as well, but not this rather small city. Probably only gets that specific for the bigger cities. Still pretty slick.

  17. dave says:

    i figured philly was big enough to be detected correctly…i guess not. i got washington d.c.

    since i have never been to, if i had gone there without having the luxury of reading his post, i would have glanced at the “washington d.c” in the header and would have closed the page, probably without ever seeing the “change location” button.

    i checked with our head tech guy to see where our isp is, but it’s close enough to hit with a rock from here.

    interestingly enough, when you do follow the “change location” link, philadelphia is in extra big letters…

    it’s a gamble i suppose they decided to take. how many of you would take the same kind of gamble?

  18. Chad Baker says:

    As long as the content is truly relevant to only a certain geographic region, I can see why they’d attempt such a trick. As a first time user of the site, however, I’d rather know what’s going on and why I should stick around.

    Also, I’m in Orlando and my company routes our internet traffic through our main location in NYC … I therefore got the NYC version of Tribe.

  19. Mike D. says:

    Kevin: That’s good information. Didn’t know that. It’s probably ok for a site like Tribe to make errors on international domains because I think they probably don’t offer international services, but it’s a bigger issue for companies who do, no doubt.

  20. chris vale says:

    There are any number of problems using an ip to location lookup. The most noticeable is the case where our data is wrong and the next is you get routed through a remote router. Both these cases end up looking bad. The problem for UK users (or anywhere outside the US) is that although the ip lookup tells us your location we can’t do much with that because we don’t have any non-US localized sites. We dump you into SF because its one of our most active regions. There’s no technical reason for this other than our product team doesn’t think outside the US.

  21. Gil says:

    It does actualy work intenationaly. I just surfed to tribe from an Israeli ( domain and got directed to, which had local events listed. VERY neat, and second time I surfed over, the ?guess=true was gone, maybe because I klicked some links, showing I was from Israel?

  22. Geof Harries says:


    What browser is that in your screenshot? The buttons look like Safari but the other widgets seem customized.



  23. Mike D. says:

    Geof: Yep, it’s Safari. I’m using the “Milk” theme to customize my OS though. More info available over at Veerle’s place.

  24. Tony C says:

    Just today I stumbled across another example of this. I was looking for prices on flat-front Dockers Mobile Pants. When I visited the Dockers Mobile Pant page, it asked me to select a location nearest me, and had my city (Sacramento) listed first…Cool.

  25. Ryan Oswald says:

    too bad that’s the only cool thing about the site!

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