A year ago I wanted to build a “widget-based” social networking site. I even started a company to do it; we had seven people. We failed, but that’s not what this article is about.
Let me be clearer – over time, things I care about will have a well defined set of tags, badges, widgets and brands associated with them. There will be a subset of the population that cares about enough of the same things I do, and shares enough of the common widgets, tags, badges and brands that I do, that I will find them to be a natural and trustworthy source of product and service recommendations. Since I already know they like many of the things I like, I am more apt to take their recommendations.
Nothing earth-shattering there – we’ve been more prone to listen to people like us for as long as we could think. What makes this different is that this won’t be limited to just one web site, or one subset of merchandise (like cars, for instance).
As the use of tags, badges, widgets, gizmos, etc proliferates there will be a period (almost there now I think) where the data are disparate – this universe doesn’t mean anything to me because it isn’t collated, shared, filtered – basically it’s data out of control. It doesn’t mean much to me, because it is not presented to me in a way I find useful.
Soon though, those data will all meld… and then it will get useful — and very interesting. That’s when this graphical universe ceases to be just data and becomes information.
Imagine if I were in the market for a new car, and through the mechanisms above my interests in ecology, economy, speed, fun, sport, style and size were already determined. As well as my favorite colors, where I live, what I do for a living, etc – it’s all basically known. Would that make searching for a new car easier? Would it cut out the obvious stuff I wasn’t interested in (even if I didn’t realize I was interested in it?) What value would that have to someone that was trying to sell just the perfect car that I don’t even realize meets my criteria? Targeted advertising? Sure – from the manufacturer, to the dealer to an insurance agent – a LOT of what I would expect about the experience could be predetermined just based on my friends and the “commons” we share.
Pre-existing data would be useful to me not just so I could receive targeted ads, but so I can save time. Mostly so I could save time.
Now imagine that the only people that knew this about me were GOOGLE, MICROSOFT, AOL, APPLE or YAHOO. That wouldn’t be right.
Can it happen? Is it happening? Yes – on both counts – because you do not control your data. You cannot view it modify it delete it or even contest it. You are literally screwed. It’s not all your fault – the Internet feels “safe” because we access it primarily from places that feel safe – like our homes.
I am of the belief that your data is yours, and mine is mine. I should control it. Not some corporation.
Can we control access to our data, and still have a functional Internet? We can. It won’t be the same Internet – and that’s a good thing. But it can be a functional Internet.
Each of us individually could accomplish this today – there are enough technologies out their to make you “seem” invisible on the web (excluding targeted investigation/interest). But random Internet activities CAN be safe.
Can we create a new dichotomy where the “norm” is a safe Internet, and people are just “protected out of the box”. I think we can, and I have some ideas on how. That’s an article for another time though – there are some conversations I need to finish with others before I go any deeper into that.
But think of it – anything you ever said on the Internet, in a moment of anger, or fear, or glee becomes a permanent part of who you are – that isn’t fair. Your emotions, and emotional reactions are yours, and you should be able to manage them. Sites like Google cache my thoughts for what could be eternity – and I am given no value for it.
These companies are profiting off of us – they are building “party planes” and 50 million dollar houses based on our thoughts, actions, and desires – and it just isn’t fair. Comparatively they are doing very little of the work and are gaining almost all of the rewards.
I think the next major shift on the Internet will be based on two premises – fairness, and equity. If my data brings you value, it should bring me value. That’s not too bizarre of a concept, is it?