A single version of you

In my last post I suggested that there are around 200 organisations that have their own version of you in their systems. Your shopping history with them (and only them), your credit card information, your address (possibly an old one), your email (possibly out of date, or incorrectly spelled through manual error), your age (guessed), financial status (assumed), marital status (incorrect), mobile number (work not personal) and so on. Some right, some wrong, some just out of date.

What would it be like if you could manage a single version of you? You’d want to make sure that not all of the data was held in one place – a potential honey-pot for hackers – but instead you could pull it together from other sources on demand so that you could make sense of it. Indeed, those 200 organisations could ask you for permission to subscribe to it, on your terms. And you’d be able to manage the context of how it’s shared – who gets to see what. On one hand you’d be able to give a bank access to your credit history so that they can authorise a loan, but then you could rescind that access after seven days. You’d be able to prove who you are to a hotel without them having to take a photocopy of your passport.

You’d be able to share your contact details with your employer, your childrens’ school and your family, but then be able to keep that information hidden from a high street retailer who asks for your mailing list details. You’d then be able to share your delivery contact information with that same high street retailer’s delivery company because that has context (but it would only be until the TV was delivered; afterwards they have no need for the data and you’d be able to remove that organisation’s subscription to those details). And perhaps interestingly, you could share with those organisations the information about what you actually want and need to buy. In real time, they could see your intentions. Some trusted organisations would even be allowed to recommend things that you don’t yet know you want, so there would still be some sense of serendipity in the system.

Something for everyone

Just think about the benefits here for businesses. No more buying data about customers on the open market to make their sure Customer Relationship Management systems are up-to-date. No more guesswork about what individuals might buy and when, spending good money after bad on advertising which has a hit-rate of 0.5%. Instead there will be deeper, richer, more valuable relationships with customers. And more accurate stories about the individual, written by them, on their terms.

And if that wasn’t enough, the single truth about an individual could be combined with others to create a single truth about a whole group – no more need for guesswork about demographic approximations and customer segmentations. Instead you’ll have customers – who trust the organisations – forming groups to tell lots about themselves; data which could be pulled together to make sense of a particular need or group behaviour. Very useful indeed; it would turn customer insight on its head.

If it was possible to manage such a personal data single truth to which others could subscribe, then it would be a place for more than this idea of ‘Volunteered Personal Information’ (i.e. all those forms you fill in); it could also be a place to capture and manage lots of other types of personal data, for example your receipts (think email receipts), travel information (think London’s oyster scheme data) and bank statements (a la lovemoney). I called this your ‘created data’ – the stuff you generate daily by shopping, browsing, travelling and sharing.

If we could pull all this information into one place it would create a much richer picture of who you are – a much richer view than those 200 organisations have about you today. It could capture the books you bought on Amazon as well as the ones at Waterstones or Barnes and Noble. It could capture what you spent on food at restaurants as well as in the supermarket. Wouldn’t that be handy? A holistic view of you – wouldn’t that be useful for companies who want to ‘personalise’ their service? Once again, if it was pulled together in a meaningful way – with a story written by you – wouldn’t it have more value than the dry data organisations buy today from the data markets?

A new way to tell stories

Imagine that this idea of a single place for your personal data could pull together all that information – not to store, but for reference – and then help you make sense of it, help you tell your story. (it’s important to note that this single place isn’t a centralised ‘vault’ or ‘cloud backup’ for all the original data, but instead is a place where all these different feeds can come together to help you make sense of them all – a bit like Flipboard for your personal data, with some parts that are authored by you.)

And imagine being able to share some of that information with others like you who have similar intentions and needs, and to express them in groups so that organisations can see aggregated demand, and perhaps even build new products and services to meet those group demands, knowing that there’s enough volume to warrant the investment.

Wouldn’t that be brilliant.

And it’s possible today.

By the end of the year, it’s expected that there will be at least half a dozen personal data services available to the public that will do just this – some of them are listed here. There’s been more than $100m invested by venture capitalists around the world in these ideas. Together with the myriad of personalised services appearing all around us, together with digital banking and ewallets and e-health systems and smart meters and social platforms, they are all straws in the wind. Together these things are going to fundamentally change the way we tell our stories. And who writes, edits and publishes them.


  1. Pingback: Telling stories « Jamie Smith
  2. Pingback: Thinking about personalisation | annahutchsmith
  3. Pingback: Thinking about personalisation | Jamie Smith

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