Thoughts on wearable APIs and measly data economy

In the high tech industry we continuously reach peak breadth of business models, only to discover a new way of monetizing stuff. Just some 5 years ago it was licensing, ads, subscriptions, monthly/yearly fees, hardware margins, accessories, paid apps (and soon in-app purchases), consulting fees, bundles, training fees, carrier subsidies and maybe a handful of other more that were indicative of the diversity of business models available for creators.

However, a lot of the variations were built on top of the existing foundations that go back to the 90s or earlier: licensing fees, services fees, content fees.

One really disruptive model was driven by social computing and data explosion, and it is the API economy. The fact that people that spent OPEX in a library or research center getting numbers or CAPEX buying research from others are now investing their money in consuming APIs and data markets across the globe is a good example of the sophistication and idealization level that the knowledge society has achieved.

With wearables, we are being presented “our numbers” in devices that have become socially acceptable enough that we can wear them. There are accurate and small sensors for time, position, distance, temperature, steps, calories, heart rate, cadence and many others. I find it realistic to think than in less than a couple years we will also have small, fashionable devices that you can attach to the sides of your head and add EKG signals.

But one important part of wearables is the interaction among wearables: an API for your self. Provided you are willing, your wearables can share and request data from others, like your current mood, cultural and personality traits, preferences for this day (food, activities, agenda) and present it to the user in an assertive way to improve relationships, productivity and effectiveness.

Your wearables can also gather environmental data that, either aggregated or in a context, can be transacted for market value. Let’s say you are the first one off a very hot subway train and you find a refreshment vendor on the street. You ask for a Coke. Your wearables can interact in fractions of a second, the vendor’s system can get this data from you, prepare an impromptu marketing campaign for the people that are coming behind you and in return give you a Coke for free.

This also has the potential to change how we do primary consumer research for marketing. No longer I need to worry about predisposition of survey takers or the inherent entropy of a sample. If your wearable knows that when you do groceries you just fly by the Doritos, not even look at them, it can sell this “measly” data to researchers (someone observing you over CCTV can get the same information, at a higher cost) This also can happen automatically so you just walk around in your day and by the end of the day you would have earned some money just by being who you are.

One important blocker for all this is payment mechanisms. I wrote about the value of Bitcoin as a payment mechanism, and I recently had an experience in Vancouver where I spent 30 minutes on the phone and spent tenths of dollars on roaming charges to talk to my bank and be able to withdraw Canadian dollars from an ATM whereas I only spent 7 minutes on a Bitcoin ATM to buy 20 CAD worth of Bitcoin (which are now worth 30 CAD, although those fluctuations are normal in BTC and can also be negative growth in some currencies and securities)

And of course… the creepy factor. Such an idea requires a granularity on policies, not only the boring tl;dr “privacy policies” (that are one of the results of ads in high-tech) but interaction policies. A new social order and interaction rules. Clinical medicine still technically considers our technology relationships as insanity. How would we change this?

I see it being either a highly personal or a highly anonymized interaction. If I’m meeting with you on a 1:1, I’m willing to share with you my mood, whether I have hard stops or pending work that I’d rather do, and how I would like to set lightning, music and climate based on my experience today. I can even share with you what my current satisfaction level with our relationship or this specific project is so we can set expectations. This can work around the cultural traits in multidiverse work environments. And you would derive some of this from non-conversational queues anyway. Otherwise, I’d rather have a Jason Bourne like, highly anonymized interaction. “Someone” walked by a market researcher and “left” this data. Nothing that couldn’t have been also obtained by observing you on CCTV or following you via mesh networks or whatever.

That said, I think it’s pretty realistic to think that within 5 years such an economy would be sailing ahead.
But if the current state of the communications infrastructure, financial system and payment mechanisms can’t enable someone to pay by tap, chip or band in fractions of a seconds, but rather in several seconds (and I still see places where Internet access is being “solved” only by cell phone towers or satellite), an API for your self and a market for derisory metrics would be too cumbersome to implement. It just wouldn’t flow.