“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” — Lewis Carroll
The Internet. It’s an amazing “place”. An amazing tool. An amazing platform. When you think of the changes its brought into our lives, it really does give one pause. Think about it.
It’s an amazing “place.” Twenty years ago there were about 600 web pages, now there’s over 600 million. Curious about something? Jump on the web. Where to eat? The definition of “oeuvre”? Symptoms of meningitis? Henry Ford’s birthplace? Jump on the web.
It’s also an amazing tool. Publish your own thoughts to a worldwide audience? Raise money for a startup product? Write code and see its effect immediately? Create beautiful designs? The web is a first class citizen in your toolbox to do these and many more amazing things.
But perhaps the aspect of the Internet that holds the most promise is that it’s an amazing platform. It’s the international public channel for publishing access (APIs) to the data and functionality of your choice. How did Facebook make the leap past MySpace? They published an API and opened their functionality and reach and capabilities to outside developers. And you can say the same of Twitter, LinkedIn and a myriad of other prominent companies.
The best example of using the Internet as a platform is a mobile app. It depends on APIs to function and it transforms the way we live. Literally. Not having apps available is like not having a car or a television. It’s a very unlikely scenario and most people depend on them for their routine and daily rhythm. Trade stocks, check into your flight, connect with social media, use as a GPS; we all love apps.
But you know all that. Here’s one thing that’s missing: YOU. There’s no API for you. Think of the data that you emit every day:
- Health: heart, respiration, weight, sleep patterns, steps
- Location: routes, speed, safety, outdoor, indoor
- Shopping: purchases, views, returns
- Social: FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest
- Entertainment: media, television, radio, blogs, reading, web
- Photos: who, what, where
- Position: just exactly what route did you take through that store?
- Home: temperature, lights, appliances, water, electricity
- Automobiles: acceleration, braking, routes, systems, oil, fuel
- Communication: phone, texts, email
- Attention: what are you looking at, are you being effective, efficient
And who owns all of that data? You do. It’s as much yours as your fingerprints are, as your thoughts are. It is in many ways simply a reflection of your identity. It’s who you are. But what is happening to this most valuable of assets? We treat most of this data like exhaust. We just emit it and it escapes into thin air, not collected, not seen, not valued, not utilized. Truth be told, some of it is collected and used by the various firms we interact with on the Internet. But our consent to use it is in many ways granted implicitly and we’re really not aware of what’s being collected, how it’s being utilized and really what its fair value is.
How would the world be different if you controlled your own data? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an API of You, of all of your own data? What if there was a way that anyone who wanted your data would have to ask you, would have to connect to your API? Right now it’s a mass of hundreds of companies in a free for all, grabbing all of your stuff. What if your personal data was brokered through an API? What if that data was currency that you could use in trade with firms for their services?
Some of this makes obvious sense. You could grant your doctor (and his staff/systems) access to your bodily stats so that real-time monitoring of your health data was always occurring. Systems like this could over time understand your behavior patterns and anticipate health incidents that might arise ahead of time giving you warning to change your behavior and avoid those problems.
You could grant specific retailers access to various bits of information about you so that they could push a variety of offers to you that anticipate what you might appreciate. Chances are, if that retailer uses this information well you’ll be a happy customer and appreciate the partnership. And if not, you’ll shut off your API to them.
The possibilities seem endless:
- Your auto insurance could recognize safe driving behaviors and price premiums accordingly as well as coach you on better practices
- Your GPS provider could learn your driving patterns and help you with route management and safer, faster trips
- Your home automation provider could help you manage utilities and indoor amenities
- Parents could have access to children’s behaviors keeping them safe and caring for them
- Grocers could keep the house stocked, perhaps providing suggested lists of items to be delivered
- Your fitness club could track your progress providing you with updated stats to motivate you
- And the list goes on…
Think of a massive switchboard with feeds of your data entering into the switchboard and outputs of your data coming out of the switchboard. You provide the feeds going into the switchboard. You control the outputs coming out of the switchboard. Your feeds are the results of your actions including the data from all of your devices, your mobile phone, your car, your bodily implants, your home, your appliances, your Internet trail, your tweets, your posts, whatever you choose. Your outputs are the APIs, the sets, categories, and packages of data that you choose to publish.
What’s missing is the company that manages this switchboard. Think of this company as your agent (in fact, let’s call it Agent).
Agent has access to all of the data that you choose to provide it; health, location, attention, etc. Agent then allows you to organize your data in whatever ways make sense to you and make that data available as an API. There could be standardized sets of APIs around health or attention or finances. Additionally there would be custom APIs where you pick and choose the data you care to make public. But the key is, all of this would be completely in your control.
Of course there would be concerns around the wisdom of providing this level of information to any one firm. Once that data is stored, could it be stolen (yes) or could it be used for nefarious purposes (yes)? That said, your information is already online. Would the existence of Agent provide you with greater security and control over this data? And would the benefits outweigh the risks? Perhaps.
Maybe the biggest benefit of all would be the integration of this data across multiple facets of your life. Would your health monitor be able to alert your GPS or your vehicle on an emerging condition relevant to your ability to drive? Would you be able to use your data as currency to reduce costs with firms? Instead of your data being harvested unbeknownst to you and being used injudiciously, would control of that data distribution provide improved security and comfort and reward?
The questions are many and the possibilities incredible. Maybe the next Google will be Agent, the company that brokers your data for you, the company that transforms the Internet into “The Internet of You.”