Personalization gets personal

“Content is King.” Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft
“Content is what you find in a handbag.”Steven Hanson, founder of The Book of Everyone

We live in the era of the automated newsfeed, serving up “personalized” content according to what an algorithm thinks we are. But the content that we find most compelling still lies within people themselves.

For example: you can see what people contain reflected in what they choose to carry around with them far better than in any Facebook feed. In my waterproof backpack, you’ll find a single busted earring that reminds me of disco nights in Madrid. There’s a sheet of elephant stickers I bought in solidarity with a friend (who really wanted a sheet of Teletubbies for herself, but felt self-conscious as the only weirdo). At the bottom hides a green corkscrew in the shape of a bird – my ex bought it, so I silently toast to our breakup every time I open a bottle of red.

People don’t fit neatly into boxes; that’s what makes them fascinating. It’s their idiosyncrasies, tiny flaws, and collections of stories that drive real connection. That’s why we’re so interested in making personalization truly personal.


We believe that what people want is to feel celebrated in a way that respects the uniqueness of who they are. They don’t want to be shoehorned into a box made of tags like “25-38 female,” “has young children,” “Interests: Healthy eating, Design, George Clooney“.

In fact, you can actually find out how Facebook categorizes you. Among many other bits and pieces, Facebook knows me as “Nuclear fallout,” “Blended whiskey,” “Being,” “Syncretism,” “Liberal Party of Australia,” “Impact Wrestling,” and “MS-DOS.

This isn’t me. Not one bit.

Me, I love finding ways to make my ukulele sound as melancholy as possible. I am fascinated by the thrum of rain as it hammers across my metal roof. I am happiest when my fingernails are sparkly gold: this is both cause and effect. I am an obsessive keeper of lists and outlines. I collect mustards from each country I visit. I hide a small purple dragon figurine inside teapots and atop ceiling beams for my partner to discover.


Turns out, people don’t want to be spoonfed a message that some algorithm tailors to their needs. We’re all still flesh-and-blood, and we want our digital spaces to reflect that humanity. People want to be treated as people.

As such, we believe that the next move in marketing and media is about to turn everything on its head again.

Personalization. Not a new word, but a new approach, taking advantage of both modern technology and our expanding digital reality.

What if you didn’t need to rely on a specialist to custom design a thing that perfectly fits you? What if the tools at hand gave you a professional look and feel that would otherwise require years of experience, but then let you adapt the look and feel to your own?


That what-if is at the heart of how we’ve designed our book builder. In order to live up to our name, The Book of Everyone has so much more behind the scenes than what you see when you enter in a name and date of birth. To generate information that fits each specific person, the books draw on over 175,000 unique database entries across 98 tables. It’s an enormous task for flesh-and-blood humans to pull up, curate, and organize that quantity of data, but that’s the real backend effort required to present something that can feel truly personal.

And all the end recipient sees is that the Black-faced Lion Tamarind was discovered the same year she was born, that long-sleeved flannel shirts were trending while her parents were canoodling, and that she’s spent 1.4 years of her life dreaming – so far.

We’ve worked with scores of designers, writers, programmers, and photographers to ensure each page feels uniquely crafted to the recipient – but then we offer the customer the option to play with the majority of the pages to make the Book their own. This includes uploading special photos, sure, but people can also craft a personal message to their best friend with fridge magnets, select whether to compare their sister’s DNA to a potato or a plum, and pick out which superhero best represents their mom.

There are already great tools out there that allow creative types to craft their own gift books 100% from scratch, both digitally and on paper. And then there are plenty of products that will simply insert a person’s name into various slots and call it customized. The Book of Everyone occupies a different niche.

We carefully balance how much of our book we base directly on very minimal personal information and how much we offer to the customer to tweak themselves. Only 113 lines of the copy are static, while the rest are selected dynamically using 30 personalised conditionals derived from just 2 pieces of information: name and birthday.


Personalization in the 21st century means offering ultra-high quality tools that give people the power to make something that hits home. Not even the deepest digital analysis of your online presence can replace the power of thanking dad for teaching you how to make the perfect poached egg.

These are the important things that put the personal in personalized, and truly sum up people and their relationships. That’s what we do.

Sure, we also take care of the obvious logistics of gorgeous printing, 100% human customer service, and fast shipping as part and parcel of the gift book concept. But, in the end, the Book is yours.

Key to what’s in Janel’s bag:
1. Freebie sunglasses from this year’s Mobile World Congress.
2. Gym band. The guy gave me a choice between pink and gray, and then told me my wrists were too small for the gray.
3. Cranberry pills. I’m prone to UTIs.
4. A broken earring. With this (intact) pair and half-calf black boots, I was ready for the night in Madrid.
5. and 19. Unbroken emergency earrings and sparkly ring. In case of glamour.
6. Dried fruits & nuts. Hangry prevention.
7. “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” It’s really good, but it puts me to sleep.
8. Bird corkscrew. In case of wine.
9. Gym gloves. In case of pull-ups.
10. and 11. Coins. Mostly euros, but also 20 centimes of Swiss francs.
12. House key.
13. A bitty emergency umbrella. In case of rain.
14. Elephant stickers from a flea market in London. A friend didn’t want to be the only weirdo buying shiny stickers, so I picked up the pachyderms in solidarity.
15. Wallet with stickers from ferrys in Thailand. They like you to put them on your shirt, but I’m too cool for that.
16. A plastic clothespin. You don’t want to know.
17. Used up eyeliner. The only type of makeup I own.
18. Burt’s Bees chapstick. Pomegranate.
20. A wooden knife from a picnic with an internet stranger last weekend. We had quiche.

I’ve opened up my backpack for the world to peek inside. So what do you carry around with you? What stories does it tell? Spill the contents of your pocket into the comments below.


  1. I’ve got an old, empty Border’s gift card in my wallet that I keep there because I like the picture of Aragorn on it.

      • Oya, also, I carry a pair of poker chips in my coat pocket because, deep down, I have an irrational belief in luck.

        • I don’t think I have anything for luck, unless we count the backpack itself. I keep misplacing it in events like, oh, say, music festivals with tens of thousands of people. It comes back to me, though: a homing backpack.

  2. I dug through my bag and found a golf tee (just is case I happen upon a course) and 2 keys to leave lock (or perhaps unlock) somethingthat I don’t remember.
    What is your plastic clothespin for?

  3. I carry a small clutch bag (wallet) within a bag because sometimes a bigger bag is just too big.
    Sunscreen and one of those flippy-outty hairbrushes with the mirror on the handle circa 1990 that I recently scored at a dollar store.
    Approximately $6.50 in US coins.
    Small hardback notebook stuffed with recent relevant papers of all types.
    1L Nalgene water bottle

    I used to carry more trinkets but somewhere in my quest for minimalism I became insufferably practical and remarkably boring.

    I doubt Facebook has yet realized this.

    • I carry a backpack that is mostly empty. I tried small bags, but there are too many times that I wish to acquire Things while out and about (usually edible), and I’d rather be a pack mule have my hands full.

      Sunscreen is a wise call – I may upgrade.

  4. The typography in these pictures is absolutely charming! Also, cranberry pills are every girl’s best friend- especially during camping music festivals.

    • Well thank you! I’ve got zero eye for it myself, but am lucky enough to work with a good handful of knockout designers.

      The glory of cranberry pills should be an integral part of female education everywhere.

  5. Those gloves seem more like “in case I need to strike an impressive pose” emergency.

  6. Janel-san,
    In my waterproof man-satchel, I carry a wallet, prescription sunglasses, chopsticks, a shibori (wet naps save lives), ear bud headphones, and an orange lighter.
    Your words are increasingly profound. Looking forward to the words ahead.


  7. Missing the tiramisu spoon next to the wooden knife, in case of dessert.
    It’s lovely to read such an unusual honesty effort in the age of big data!
    Beautiful writing, Janel.

    • You’ve got me blushing over here. So glad you’ve enjoyed the words (and they’re not even my more salacious work) – more soon!

      One should always be prepared in case of rogue dessert on a mountain.

  8. An intriguing exercise. What’s in your bag?

    5 credit cards
    AAA cards – for road trips
    Fort Huachaca Access card – from my last bicycling tour
    Cards from
    a nice lady I met on a plane
    Hedonism Wines, London
    la Xula restaurant, Barcelona
    the guy remodelling my kitchen
    $15 Barbados
    $30 USD
    $85 Euro

    What does it all mean?

    • La Xula! That’s a great just-in-case reference to keep close. And you never know when you’re going to need $15 in Barbadian dollars (for a pair of rum punches, perhaps?).

  9. Just removed my laptop and right now i’ve got some Biz cards, 2 pens as someone always ” borrows” one at the office, apple charging leads headphones and emergency lunch money in case i forget my wallet..
    Quite impressed with myself after looking at your Janel!!

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