The Other ‘Sharing’ Economy That’s About To Change The World
(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
A great article in the New York Times this weekend reported on the enormous rise of the “sharing economy” and the impact that its applications are having on workers around the country. By now you’ve heard of some of these applications: There’s Uber and Lyft and Sidecar where people can share their cars to provide rides. There’s Airbnb (sharing rooms), TaskRabbit (sharing tasks), Fiverr (sharing services), Postmates and Favor (sharing couriers) as well as Instacart (sharing grocery deliveries). The sharing economy is real and growing.
But there’s another sharing economy that’s not yet getting the same kind of attention. But it will. Because this sharing economy is going to change the world. It’s not cars or tasks or rooms or groceries. It’s data. Today’s cloud based software companies are building enormous troves of data. And the smarter ones are doing this because they see the future. And their future is sharing.
Your location is being tracked. Your purchase history is being stored. Your user profile has been collected. You are prompted to save your passwords. You are asked to confirm your personal details. You must submit an email address. You are required to provide your mother’s maiden name. Every hour more bits of data about you are being gathered, stored, categorized, and archived.
For the forward thinking software service, it’s not just about user licenses. It’s not just about selling boxes or books or tablets or shoes. It’s not merely a mobile app that lets you just buy concert tickets, listen to music or take a note. It’s about the data that’s being collected. It’s why Facebook purchased What’sApp or why Amazon recently announced it was going into the mobile payments business to compete with the likes of Square and PayPal. The current fees from these services are not what’s important. In the long term, the data is what’s important.
Welcome to 2014, and the very early days of the data sharing economy. Don’t worry. This is OK. We are entering a world where the trillions of terabytes of data collected by software companies will soon be put to beneficial use. This world will make them a lot of money. And in return, the world will be a better place for you and me.
“This isn’t about contextual awareness, but also actionable intent,” David Barrett, the CEO ofExpensify (a popular mobile expense reporting service), told me recently. “When you forward a travel itinerary to us, we identify it as such and build a travel profile with flight status updates and other features. With this we know not just your past preferences, but your future plans.”
And this is how a little company that provides a great mobile expense-tracking service plans to use its customer data in the future. These ideas aren’t hard – they’ve been around for years. But I agree with Barrett when he says that only now are we getting to a point “where we have enough contextual data and actionable intent to actually do something about it.” In the new sharing economy, data will be the currency.
“Imagine you add in another player to this scenario: the OpenTable API (Application Programming Interface TILE +1.87%).” Barrett continued. “With this we could say ‘hey there, it’s dinnertime and you’re in a town you don’t know. There’s a great Thai food restaurant next to your hotel and Bob, another one of our users who traveled to this town, ranked this Thai restaurant 5 stars saying ‘So hot I cried!’ Do you want me to make a reservation?’ Or perhaps withGrubHub, we just order your favorite dish and have it waiting for you at the hotel. Or add in the Uber API: ‘I see you just landed, would you like a ride to the hotel? Or maybe a detour to this great Thai restaurant first?’”
“Then imagine you added a simple star-rating and review system onto the expense when you submit it. Now we have a business-travel focused Yelp, except “authenticated” via the credit card purchase (e.g. no reviewing someplace you didn’t go) and “weighted” by how much you spent there (someone who spends $100 should be more trusted than someone who spent $10).”
Today’s smartest software companies embrace sharing. They encourage integration, openness, compatibility. They demand that their developers partner with developers at other software companies. These companies want to do business with others who understand the importance of your data. They want your data because, in the developing cloud world with its easier integrations and more open community that data will be shared with the data collected by other cloud-based services to provide a more contextual, interconnected experience for all of us. It’s not just the fees that we, as customers, are being charged. It’s the value that we’re getting for those fees. And the more tied in we are with the services we enjoy the more willing we are to keep paying.
How far can this go?
According to Barrett, the sky’s the limit: “Want to get really crazy? How about: ‘Hey, this is a bit weird, but there’s another business traveler nearby in town for a bit who loves Thai food as much as you do, and I see from her calendar that she’s free; would you like to meet up at Bob’s favorite Thai place for some curry? If this isn’t your thing, let me know and I’ll never mention it again.’”
An automatic ride booking? A restaurant reservation? An introduction to a fellow traveler? The future, data-integrated sharing economy will significantly change and improve our lives. Of course, you might want to check with your spouse about that last one.