I recently installed a browser plugin called “Rather”. Its function is very basic and superficial: it replaces content (words) you don’t want to see with something else.
Whilst you’re browsing Twitter, a tweet containing the word “Kardashians” pops up? Block it and show kittens drinking milk instead. Don’t like the site 9gag.com? Block the entire domain: “9gag.com/(.*)”. It’s a neat tool that allows me, to some extent, personalise my browsing experience.
A couple of weeks ago I visited a big video content website for the first time. The amount of video thumbnails they had on their homepage overwhelmed me so much that I closed my browser tab. The mistake they did was they didn’t personalise their website for first-time users.
Towards a more personalised future
The Internet started as basic pages linked together. Back then, the Internet revolved around information and content: static websites, weblogs, forums. After that, it moved to platforms which allowed you to create a digital persona for others to see: MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, etc. In the near future however, the Internet will morph into a giant mirror—whichever platform you visit, you will see yourself: the things you like (and won’t see the things you dislike).
I visit YouTube almost daily not because of the cat videos or the latest popular video of Miley Cyrus swinging from a wrecking ball, but thanks to my subscriptions to people whom I like watching their videos. YouTube got that, and it’s displaying those videos on “my” homepage:
[image of YouTube account]
I’m making a case that it’s no longer even about connections, a.k.a. the old “see what your friends are up to”—we’re past that. If I don’t like what my high school buddy posts, I can hide, unfollow, block, and remove them from my digital view. It’s becoming purely about stuff I like and dislike.
Take the lack of personalisation on the BBC’s website, for example. This was their homepage a while back:
[image of BBC]
Why is the first story I see on their site about the Latvian PM who quit? Am I living in Latvia? The last time I checked I was located in Cyprus. How hard is it to implement a geolocation mechanism that shows me news from my country first?
Same deal with the weather section on the right: “Wow, it’s 11˚ C?! Wait, no it’s not—I’m not in London”. My browser knows my location, why dear BBC website are you so stupid? Oh, you want me to type-in my location? In what format? City, City-Country, Country-City, ZIP code, Lat-Long, Google Maps link? Imagine how much more traffic they could’ve gotten if they at least did the weather section right. I could visit their site just to get info about the weather.
“Pff, personalisation… big deal! Wow, Alex, you’re a genius… not!” I hear you say. Bear with me, whilst I take you a trip through the wormhole (narrated by Morgan Freeman, of course).
Enter the wormhole
The alarm on your phone wakes you up gently, and you feel well-rested. During the night, your phone—or watch, or glasses, or whatever future wearable device—tracked your sleep cycles and calculated the precise time to wake you up. It wakes you up by playing your favourite song from yesterday’s playlist (you had it on repeat for half an hour).
After you’re turned off the alarm, your phone starts dictating to you the latest local news (news only on the topics you like), local weather, emails/messages/comments you got from the group of your favourite people, and your schedule for the day. Using proximity sensors, when you go to the bathroom, the information continues streaming to your bathroom’s speakers via Bluetooth LE.
Your phone knows that on Tuesdays you like to spend some time at the bookstore before going to work. So it notifies you to get going if you wanna arrive to work on time.
As you exit your apartment, the door locks automatically after having detected (via your mobile and proximity sensors) that the only inhabitant has left the premises. Same deal with the car—it unlocks itself after sensing you’re approaching it. Once you get in the car, you start the engine either by voice command or by pressing a button—note: your car isn’t a self-drive car, which though available for purchase, are still very expensive and not that reliable. Plus, you enjoy driving.
The car automatically switches to radio stations that only play your favourite songs and genres (data gathered from the various music streaming services you like). The option to listen to your favourite music streaming service is also available.
Before going to the bookstore, you make a quick stop and hop-in a Starbucks to grab your coffee fix. As you walk inside, the barista gets a notification (sent from your phone) with your favourite coffee and starts preparing it whilst you’re approaching the counter. The payment is done automatically via your phone that’s in your pocket. You grab your coffee, thank the barista, and go your way.
[image of barista receiving notification as you walk in door]
On your way to the bookstore, you’re feeling adventurous and you decide not to stop by your usual bookstore but try a new one. By turning ON the “adventure” mode on your phone, it searches and finds a new bookstore for you.
Inside the never-visited-before bookstore, a guiding line on the floor lights up to help you find the book section you like the most: vampire fiction. But why not turn ON the “adventure” mode? Erotic fiction—that’s the stuff! You check out a few books and then you go back to your car and go to work.
At work, whilst you’re walking through the lobby, that colleague you always avoid having a conversation with, is walking towards you. Your phone knows that you dislike and you’ve been avoiding that person, so it generates a fake call to make it look like someone’s calling you. Successful evasion from an awkward conversation once again! At around 11AM you usually have a small coffee break. You get a notification that the bagels you like are back in stock at the bakery near your workplace. Whilst you’re there, you should try their new blueberry muffin which you’ll love, because you like muffins, and they’re 20% off just for today.
It’s time to head home. You hop in your car, and your phone suggests an alternative route to take so you can get home faster. You get an alert to stop and charge your car whilst you’re approaching your favourite EV (electrical vehicle) charging station (number of times you charged your car from there). Whilst you’re waiting for your car to charge (takes around 7-10 minutes), you visit the nearby barber shop to say a quick Hi to the owner. “News about Mikey” you dictate, and your phone informs you about the most important event update from Mikey—he just got a dog a couple of days ago! You go in and have an engaging conversation with Mikey.
You’re feeling nostalgic, so you stop by the hypermarket to buy some groceries. It’s been a while since with that new fridge you bought that auto-orders groceries for you. Your phone informs you of the items you’re running low on and turns on guiding lines that point to the aisles the products are located. The aisle number and shelf section also lights up to make it easier to find your favourite product. FYI, these lights are tailored only to you, so no confusion will be created from other customers using the same technology in the store.
[image of supermarket aisle with lines]
At home, you text your friend to see if he’s still up for drinks. He recently changed his phone number, but that’s no problem because there are no SIM cards anymore. When you buy a new phone, your carrier creates a digital account, sort of like a passport, where you can store your phone number(s). This makes it easy to switch phones or numbers. If you visit a different country you can save your new phone number easily. Switching phone numbers is trivial. This also means that you always have saved in your phone the newest number of all your contacts you’re connected with.
So you go out. At the bar, you decide to sit at a booth with your friends. You place your phone on the table and it charges wirelessly, thanks to the conductive material. The first round of drinks arrives automatically, based on your preferred drink. You have it set on “auto”, so throughout the night, once you’ve finished your drink, another one is brought to you almost instantly.
The phone also helps you meet people. You see an attractive one at the bar, you pick-up your phone search for her (nearby people), and download her public profile (details she feels comfortable sharing) in search for any common interests or friends. Armed with the info, you get up and approach her to start a conversation. You end up having an engaging conversation and a great time.
You decide to leave the location but whilst you’re heading for the exit doors, your phone starts buzzing really loud and calling your name.
[image of phone on table with people in background]
Apparently you forgot your phone on the bar table. Thanks to the sensitive smelling sensor incorporated in your phone, it detects your unique scent (like a sniffing dog), and when you distance yourself more than 8 meters from it, your phone starts buzzing. No more lost or stolen phones—or watches, or glasses, or whatever future wearable devices. RFID chip body implants that do the same job, acting as transmitter/receiver/locator, are available but they’re too creepy.
With your phone in your pocket, you leave the bar. The tab is automatically split and your share is paid by your mobile. If you’re feeling generous, you can merge the tab and pay for all the drinks.
Because you’ve had a bit too much to drink, you take a cab. You select your destination (home), and your phone comes up with all available taxi cars nearby your location, and displays their fare. Once you’ve selected one, the driver gets a notification and if he accepts it, he comes and picks you up from where you’re waiting. The cab driver already has your destination in their GPS. The cab fare is paid automatically once you’ve arrived at your destination (and exiting the cab).
If your car was a self-drive car, it could’ve driven itself back to your place. But now you have to pay for an online service to retrieve your car. It works by allowing temporary access (tethering) to your keyless car and a designated driver of the online service, returns the car back to your garage. Happy times!
How your future will look
Better, simpler, more engaging. Because you’ll be surrounded only by things you like and enjoy, you’ll also be happier. Technology in the future will be used for making the environment we live in frictionless, and with every interaction, it will try to minimise cost (be it money, time, effort, attention) and maximise the benefit. You can now spend more time doing the things you like and spend no time on the things you don’t enjoy.
In order to achieve this, we need a central system where you can input all the things you like and dislike. This system must be able to send information about you and also receive new information, fine-tune and update your “online persona” using complex algorithms.
Advertising & selling my details
Whoa, this system sounds dodgy right? Kind of like Facebook sells your profile info and likes to advertisers. That’s the negative connotation “advertising” got over the years: “spam”. Yet, in its essence, advertising is merely a form of communication.
Let me try for a second to change your mind. First, you need to see this as a win-win for both parties. You will get relevant suggestions based on your likes and purchase history, and advertisers will sell more because the product they’re trying to sell appeals to their target audience.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find similar albums to the ones you’ve bought or listened? Or similar books? Or similar clothing that matches your style? Or special deals and discounts on a product you bought in the past? Or videos similar to the ones you’ve liked? I would happily give away my personal data to a system that can provide me with relevant suggestions based on the things I enjoy. It would simplify and improve my life.
And to those of you who are still reluctant to share their data online in fear of, I don’t know, X finding out about you or seeing your face online, I have bad news: it’s only gonna get worse for you. You’re a “dying breed”. Adapt or die, just like the radio “died” when television came out, just like television “died” when Netflix came out, just like Blackberry “died” when iPhone came out, just like newspapers “died” when iPad came out… (I know, historically not accurate but I’m trying to make a point).
Where Facebook got it wrong
It tries to be everything. It wants to become your main hub for all the things. The place where you interact with your old friends, where you save the movies you like, the restaurants you enjoy, the teams you follow, the clothing you wear, the websites you visit, sharing articles and photos you like, and so on. By trying to be so much, it weakens the brand and makes Facebook as a service complex, difficult to use, and messy. A good move by Facebook was that they didn’t rename Instagram and WhatsApp, both purchased by Facebook, to “Facebook” and let them run as independent services.
Regardless, we need only one service that will do this one thing (save the things you like), and do it well. It needs to integrate well with other APIs (Application Programming Interface), be smart, secure, and adapt with you—as we grow older our preferences also change.
How I’ll build it
Short answer: I can’t build it. Not by myself. But I’ve thought of how your future will be shaped by this service. So I have a rough vision for how this service should work and behave.
There are two aspects of the future interactions mentioned in the “wormhole” above. The “Back-end” and the “Front-end”.
[image of front/back-end. Logos of companies feeding in and relevant info exiting. Maybe conveyor belt]
Back-end (to service): refers to downloading your unordered data from specific platforms and adding it to the service. For example, your last purchased items on eBay, or your starred songs on Spotify are all saved to this service under your profile.
Front-end (from service): refers to passing your likes (data) from the service to someone else you granted access. In essence, it’s where the result of your likes will be displayed (third-party). For example, after you bought a business book, who will know about it and show you suggestions or special discounts. This could be a website, an app, a physical store, a WiFi t-shirt, etc.
The service should support all popular online platforms. Be it Amazon, eBay, Vimeo, YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, Netflix, Flickr, Pinterest, Foursquare, etc. The service can gain access to all your social accounts and pull data from their API.
Furthermore, the service should work with “offline” platforms as well: Starbucks, Wallmart, Ikea, Nike, D&G, Apple, etc. When you purchase something from these platforms, your purchase is matched to a certain UPI (Unique Person Identifier) so that it can be added to your profile.
Need your help
I want this thing to see the light of day. I think it will shape your future big time. If I don’t build it, someone else with the proper resources will. But I want to found this thing—and I want you on as well, mainly because I don’t have the necessary resources/knowledge/connections to build this thing by myself. If you are willing to contribute in any way (even by only sharing/tweeting this article), please email me.