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?)!