The Benefits of Cookies
Cookies are used in many different ways, and many of them make the web experience much better. However, most of this can be summed up on one word – personalisation.
The online store Amazon is a great example of this. The more you use the site, the more Amazon understands what kind of products you search for and buy. This allows it to make recommendations of products you might like – which could help prevent extensive searching in such a big store.
If you have bought from Amazon and don’t actively sign out from your account, it will remember you when you return – greeting you by name even. It also remembers any items you have put in your shopping basket but not purchased – making it quicker to go through the checkout.
Of course they are doing it for their own benefit as well – all of this increases their sales, but it does benefit users.
In fact online shopping would not be possible without cookies. If we didn’t have cookies, you could not effectively login to a website. Instead you would have to tell it who you are every time you went to a new page, which would be extremely tedious.
Cookies can personalise a website in all sorts of other ways as well – without having to be about shopping. For example, they can be used to remember a user prefers a larger font size than normal. A news website might remember that you like certain types of stories and promote them to the home page.
There are also more subtle uses of cookies that bring benefits that are less tangible.
Some services even claim they can work out which part of a page users spend most time looking at, even without clicking anything. This is because they can track where in the page the mouse pointer is, and many users tend to place the pointer near where they are looking at.
Aggregating all that data into useful information is known as ‘web analytics’, and it gives website owners real understanding about how people user their site, which are the most and least popular pages, and how this changes over time. Doing this enables them to improve the site – doing more of what visitors like and less of what they don’t. Ultimately this benefits visitors through better content and services targeted at their needs.
However cookies does also raise a number of privacy concerns that people ought to be aware of.