Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sensors are enabling the era of [Web 2.0]2.0: The next generation of user-generated content will be embedded deep inside ecosystems. Get ready.

UGC is being raised to the next level:
it's web-two-dot-oh-two-dot-oh.

KEY MOBILE TRENDS: sensors, sensor fusion, monetization, sensor-generated data, big data, big proactive, well-being, ubiquitous computing

[Web 2.0]2.0: get ready to spot a new generation of business opportunities in sensor-generated data.

Wikis, blogs, microblogs, video blogs, social networking, iReporting, more. Web 2.0 has been about the fantastic enablement of consumers to move beyond simple content consumption to personal content creation. Now, thanks to a new class of gadgets and services being rolled out, user-generated content is being taken a step further with the auto collection, storage, and on-going analysis of personal-metric information. Web 2.0 is reaching its own second generation. I'll call it [Web 2.0]2.0.

Last month I speculated that a potential wearable device from Apple such as a watch would be more about the collection of data than the display of information. Such conjecture is not without supporting evidence. Three years ago, Apple hired a leading expert in wearable computing technologies, Richard DeVaul, who co-founded a company called AWare Technologies which was developing fitness-related products. Mr. DeVaul has described himself as “an expert in signal processing and real-time statistical classification techniques.” While at MIT, Mr. DeVaul researched the implementation of sensors in wearable devices and the potential use of the collected data to predict and guide behavior. So, given Apple's active interest in the area together with patents filed, the surprise would be if nothing like an iWatch hits the market soon.

Some fantastic fortunes have been around Web 2.0 services during the past decade. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Flickr are some obvious examples which have led to the creation of unbelievable wealth and changed user behavior. So, we should not be surprised to see a new gold rush in mining the next level of consumer data as device makers, app developers, and web service providers introduce business models to leverage this detailed layer of personal information.

None of this is happening out of the blue. Sensor-based data is already used by Foursquare, Endomondo, Polar, Flickr, and Google's Latitude to add contextual and ambient information to content and to track behavior over time. But the number of sensors and thus the amount of detailed data will be growing at near exponential rates during the coming decade if consumers show the interest. One thing I have learned during my career is that consumers are always the biggest unknown variable in any market equation. But if the potential players can demonstrate to their audience that sophisticated analytics can really qualify this personal data, then demand and usage will follow.

But who owns the data and analytical results?

As hardware becomes more commoditized over the coming years, consumer data such as health and well-being information will become an increasingly important part of the mobile value chain and provide an opportunity for increased stickiness or complete lock-in.

As I postulated in early March, Apple's wearable-computing strategy could be about reinforcing its existing walled-garden approach with such highly personalized and extremely valuable data collected from a series of devices over a period of years. Advanced APIs are being developed for iOS and other platforms to leverage the value of auto-generated, sensor-based data to provide the user "observations of daily living." Expect mobile ecosystems to adjust and evolve rapidly to enable sophisticated ODLs and proactive recommendations for behavior modification.

Open standards are being developed to support the interoperability of personal health records, but it's said that one of the best things about standards is that there are so many to choose from. Enabling consumers to easily port fitness data from one ecosystem to another might not be in the interest of some leading industry players which would prefer to develop their own data formats or back their own proposed standards.

Openness does have some momentum behind it at this early stage. Microsoft's HealthVault, for example, supports a variety of standards-defined healthcare record formats, and many devices currently on the market such as Fitbit Trackers, Withings Wi-Fi Scale, Polar watches, and many mobile apps already work with HealthVault and other free record-storage services using standards-defined record formats.

As consumer-generated content gets switched to autopilot, [Web 2.0]2.0 will provide industry players a second chance to get in on a new ground floor. Opportunities like this come along every decade or so and usually require a series of flops before that one big hit sparks something real. And when that killer device does arrive, you can expect a plethora of life-tracking products and partnerships to hit the headlines as the mad scramble begins.

At the moment we are still in a state of sensor fusion confusion. Consumer desires and monetization are the unknowns. But I'm certain that some vendor will soon come along and lead by example with real clarity and purpose to this data. It's time to get a move on.

Microsoft's HealthVault: like money in the bank? Health and well-being records could become a valuable currency if the analytics are done right.

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