Beyond People-as-a-Product?

Often these days I find myself wondering if, when Sergey and Larry were pitching Google in ’98-’99, their investor deck included a prescient slide about AdWords? While PageRank is well known as their disruptive technical innovation, AdWords, which alone likely accounts for two-thirds of Google’s revenues, is the type of disruptive business innovation that is the stuff of investor dreams — provided one accepts to take a leap of faith.

While it may have been difficult to imagine two decades ago, today we accept that as users of the Internet, we ourselves are often the product being monetised.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads” said Jeff Hammerbacher, Facebook’s first research scientist. It should come as no surprise that now with over two billion monthly-active “products” in stock, Facebook has established itself as the marketplace for hyper-targeted advertising. Indeed, the titans of social media and e-commerce each painstakingly maintain their own digital version of us, their users. These lucrative digital twins are the product of our online interactions, all made possible by the Internet.

But as we move beyond the Internet to the Internet of Things, things are changing. Literally. So what prescient slide would the likes of Sergey and Larry include in their ’18-’19 fundraising deck? In other words,

what becomes the novel product of the Internet of Things?

Where the Internet facilitated the understanding of people’s behaviour online, the Internet of Things adds the all-important understanding of people’s behaviour in the real-world. Does this simply mean that the “real you” will supersede your digital twin as a product? If so, who will own the “real you”? This raises plenty more questions.

Will the evolution of the People-as-a-Product paradigm remain the privy of the Big 5? Will progressive legislation such as GDPR influence the emerging product and, critically, its ownership? Will there be a revolutionary change? Imagine a modern spin on the familiar rallying cry:

Products of the world unite and seize the means of monetisation!

For a tech startup today, the trillion dollar question is what to include on that one prescient slide?   For the next generation of tech mercenaries entering the workforce, the question is what’s the equivalent of clicking on ads in the real world?   And for humanity, the question is how do we collectively envisage our own future?

Let’s not forget to focus on that last one too, at least for the sake of future generations (of products?)!

The IoT as your Brand Ambassador

Since the coining of the term Internet of Things in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, the IoT has been described in myriad ways. Just as was the case twenty years ago with the Internet, we have a habit of predicting the future of a technology by standing in the present looking forward. But what if we change that perspective and imagine ourselves in the future looking back at today? We did exactly that, as the following video shows.

For how many years have you been building your digital brand on the Internet? Take a moment to imagine your digital self.

In cyberspace, you’re known as your digital self, your digital brand. In “meatspace”, you’re known as your physical self, a brand that millions of years of evolution as social animals has hard-wired us humans to both advertise and recognise. We’ve adapted to live in both of these worlds. And, in our futuristic hindsight, the Internet of Things is arguably the Internet’s adaptation to join us in the “meatspace” world.

Last month we showed how The Physical Web just got Personal, how you can today advertise your digital self on the same scale as your physical self, whenever and wherever you choose. You already have in your hand (or on your wrist) the technology to advertise your digital brand. So when and how will the IoT emerge as your brand ambassador, calmly delivering the right information at the right place at the right time?

Fortunately, we’re not alone in asking that question. In The Bank of Personal Data we discussed how Dr. Roberto Minerva, like us, argues for a broker model. And when you consider how much of your digital brand is locked up in the siloed “vaults” of social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, e-commerce platforms from Amazon to niche brands, VC-backed grow-your-user-base-then-monetise apps, digital health platforms such as Fitbit and, of course, the almighty Google, expect an epic battle between these and emerging players to establish the dominant currency and exchange for this information, your information, in the real world in real time.

We conclude our video arguing that the (post-battle) IoT will make you a superhuman in the real world. It’s not the first time we’ve used that word, case in point our 2013 post IxD, the Superhuman and the Superorganism. Only recently, however, has the “how” come into focus, and we now see “what”, from a human perspective, the IoT may very well prove to be: a personal brand ambassador for each and every one of us.