Life Hacks, Media Mind

There should be an App for a Personal API

 There should be an app for that

There Should Be An App For That

Apps and websites (and features) are becoming single function, best-of-breed experiences.

And in the future (and the present) customers want to knit them back together into a mix-up of their own creation.

Services like Zapier ( and IFTTT ( are just the start. These services enable a kind of personal operating system where you identify the “channels” (where stuff happens, e.g. Twitter, Salesforce, Facebook – there are hundreds), the “triggers” (what causes this to happen, e.g. receiving an email, creating a calendar item, or posting a tweet), and the “actions” (what data is transferred or referenced in another channel, e.g. When I post on Instagram, also post it for me on Flickr; or make a calendar appointment for me automatically when I get this type of email.)

The future belongs to startups that help you make “Data Glue” and “Personal API” management, sticking together all of your best of breed digital exhaust and interactions and photos and stuff into one coherent management view. Yeah, yeah, I know – you keep all of your stuff in Facebook or on Twitter or on Google. But do you? Do you really know where all of your online stuff lives?

Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends presentation is a must read.
What is there was a personal API where you could see all of your stuff?

Today you share a lot of information online. And you don’t have a good place to review all of that data, understand how it’s shared, and stop sharing it when you want. We need an API of Me that gives you one place to know what you’re doing and sharing online. You might argue that this is dangerous to connect all of the streams of information and to put management controls in one place. I might argue that it’s potentially dangerous to not know all of the information that’s being shared and connected to you with and without your knowledge.

A personal API could bridge this gap by giving you better control over the information you choose to share and understanding where it’s shared. There are some technical hurdles to making this happen and a start might be: allow consumers to create their own chunks of information that are connected with an API using oAuth to publishers. It’s the same way a company might broker and share this sort of information, only you would be brokering the information and using it as a “pass-through” for the information you currently share on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other services.

There would need to be a minimum amount information that would be always be shareable and discoverable – for example, you might use as your key the username that you share on those networks (your Twitter handle, LinkedIn ID, etc). As a start you might simply provide extended information to those services. If this is a valuable service to share highly targeted information, then those services might start using you as an API provider.

What if there was a way to package up that data and sell it to people who wanted your stuff and to get payment?

In a world where you had better control over your personal data, you might choose to give it away freely or sell that information. Today there is a Creative Commons license that allows you to give away content easily and it’s much harder to centralize the way that you sell data, mostly because you are often operating under the auspices of other organizations when you create that information. Who owns a Tweet? Who owns a Facebook post? Who owns the digital exhaust of an interaction that you create when you move from place to place?

The future will include:
– tightly controlled views of uncontrolled data
– custom bundles of seemingly random information that have value when aggregated
– individual micro payments for actions online and offline

Would you use an “API of Me”?

Learning, Life Hacks, Product Thoughts

You are the product


Be outraged. Facebook is no longer allowing you to hide and not be found in searches. Instagram is including ads in stream and getting rid of the ability to stop auto-play. LinkedIn is selling your “endorsements”. Google is reading your email and serving you ads based on those emails. WordPress shows ads in exchange for free hosting in content to the world.

If these things bother you (and I believe they might) you must also acknowledge that all of these products and services do not cost anything upfront to use. Yes, you can argue that we are subsidizing them through our subscriptions with network providers like AT&T and Comcast, yet those companies have a more traditional business model than those in the online ether.

In the old economy, you pay for services and products in a lump sum or monthly, in cash or by financing a purchase. In the new attention-based economy (and yes, I do think it’s new), you pay incrementally with data, behaviors, and transactions over time.

Because we’re not used to the idea that we are the product, when we find our providers selling this data, we get upset. We wonder how this data (ours) could be sold to the highest bidder. Yet we created this data asset on a free platform (and willingly).

Some will say that the techniques used to get us to participate are coercive, manipulative, or downright evil. I think that the root of the issue is that we don’t control access to our own data. Today, the only way to avoid becoming a product is to avoid participating in this economy. Yet more and more economic models and businesses are being hybridized to include elements of *free* – it’s hard to opt out.

What should we do? Build alternate models: a model based on identity (and a paid one) is a good incentive to control how that identity is used and sold. Companies should offer this in the market as an alternative to *free*. If we all had an API of Me and a way to share some data that companies want to use to make us the product, we could know how the data is being used. We are the product, and now we need to learn how to shape that product in the new economy.

Media Mind, Product Thoughts

Revisiting the API of Me

photo by

Revisiting the API of ME

About 6 months ago, I wrote an article on the “API of ME“, an idea for a system of capturing, sharing, and **limiting* information by and about customers so that they could participate actively in a marketplace of data that includes their data. This is a follow-up to that post, inspired by HelpMeWrite*

The Big Picture of Your Big Data

Big Companies (and governmental entities) make decisions about our data every day. Wouldn’t it be great if it was easier to create “the API of Me” and segment the information those companies were allowed to sell? And wouldn’t it also be great if the company could ask you (and give you micro-payment) for additional data it wanted to sell? For the purposes of argument, let’s talk about voluntary means of asking for and receiving information instead of other forms of information collection.

Why do we need a system to do this?

The current online identity system is hopelessly fragmented and controlled by companies, not consumers.

I believe that customers and browsers (people who consume media and do not purchase) have a right to know how their information is being used.

Most things that are free on the Internet need a business model. I believe that Companies have a right to make money off of this consumption and should be sharing more openly with customers how their data is being used (whether it is sold directly or aggregated.) I also believe that customers should have a right to control how that data is being asked for and used.

And there is so much information being shared today in a combination of media by customers that it’s really hard to even know what you’re sharing. It would be great if it were easier for customers to make their preferences known about the information being used.

We all need a service that can expand our existing electronic identity to other future uses and to allow those future uses to learn more about us and to provide better service, more utility, and societal good while minimizing the possibility of “bad actors” to make inappropriate use of that information.

This idea needs to support an elegant, multi-factor authentication solution that’s as simple as possible, and no simpler.

What’s the goal?

The goal of this idea is to make data sharing transparent. An API of ME would also allow you to become a data broker for the information you would like to share with the world, and to make that sharing process easy to use and understand. If you imagine a venn diagram of “most private,” “somewhat private,” and “public” information that you specify, an API of ME would help you separate that content and activity into buckets.

When a company wants your data and has never made an agreement with you for that information, a possible solution might include a detailed request for information not unlike the way that oAuth connections (consider how you connect a 3rd-party account like Twitter or Facebook) ask for that information today.

What is the benefit of an API of ME for Customers?

Customers would benefit from an API of Me by being able to specify directly what information they’d like to share and where. If the system worked well, the default level of sharing would make sense to most people (it might look like “share everything”, “share nothing,” and “tell me the kind of things you’d like to share.”) In an ideal world those customers would get paid for sharing that data.

What is the benefit of an API of ME for Companies?

Simply put, better qualified leads for activity, sales, interactions, and a true possibility at building a relationship. When a company really knows me – understanding where and when I like to be contacted and the types of offers that are valuable to me – that company gains my trust. I’m more likely to take a chance that they will do a good thing rather than immediate suspect ill will.

Can this happen?

Who knows. We are already in the business of sharing a lot of information with each other and with the companies that facilitation. Those companies are already selling our data (because, as you well know, if you’re not paying for the product, the product is you.) And yet there is the possibility that brokering the conversation will start not only a backlash at the extent to which this information is being bought and sold today but also a real marketplace for information where the key elements are owned and negotiated by the customer.

Innovation, Media Mind, Productivity

The API of Me

photo courtesy of

What is the “API of Me”?

When you think about browsing the web on your computer, tablet, or mobile device, you undoubtedly think about the ads presented to you, the information stored by companies whose websites you visit, and the other information they might know about you. If you are are particularly privacy-conscious, you make take additional measures to mitigate the tracking and categorizing of your online activity, or “digital exhaust” in addition to the explicit places you visit.

This tracking presents opportunities and disadvantages for all consumers, and particular benefit or detriment depending upon the consumer involved. If you are a frequent visitor to an outdoor products site that sells skiing equipment and you also visit a ski resort web site, you might not mind seeing an advertisement or a special offer to purchase sporting equipment. If you research a mental health issue that you didn’t wish to share with others, you might be shocked to see relevant content to your search show up in your search results on Facebook. Yet both of those scenarios are technologically possible and increasingly in use as you peruse the Internet from many sources. Add to that data the ability to provide additional context from when and where you view these sites, and retailers and others alike already have deep information stores with which to present us with information.

Is there a way to shape the ads you see and protect your data?

So how can you – the “typical” consumer who would like to get more relevant information while maintaining the privacy and security of your information appropriate to your comfort level – regulate what these companies know about you? Some of this information is regulated (the degree to which your wireless provider can track your movements and share data with advertisers) and a lot of this information – especially that which can be correlated and presented using the techniques of “big data” – is much fuzzier.

I believe that we as consumers have a right to control the data we share about and between the services and products we use, and that the economic benefit of using and sharing that information by companies should be more transparent. “The API of Me” is the name I’d like to propose for a system of capturing, sharing, and limiting information about consumers that presupposes the following ideas:

  1. The current online identity system is hopelessly fragmented and controlled by companies, not consumers.
  2. Customers and browsers (people who consume media and do not purchase) have a right to know how their information is being used.
  3. Companies have a right to make money off of this consumption and have a moral obligation to share with customers how their data is being used to make money.
  4. A system should exist to allow customers to make their preferences known that allows the customer to maintain the repository of choices and information and to provide some, all, or none of that information to companies who ask; the system should also respond similarly whether there is an account or not.
  5. We all need a service that can expand our existing electronic identity to other future uses and to allow those future uses to learn more about us and to provide better service, more utility, and societal good while minimizing the possibility of “bad actors” to make inappropriate use of that information.
  6. This idea needs to support an elegant, multi-factor authentication solution that’s as simple as possible, and no simpler.

And why would anyone use this idea?

Why would customers use The API of Me? There are more and more identity services in use today, and as they cross-reference the items we search, our movements, and the items we consume/read/watch, it’s more important than ever to have the ability to selectively publish information without being overwhelmed by a complicated array of privacy controls (have you looked at your Facebook privacy settings recently?)

Some would say that we shouldn’t have such a comprehensive source for individual information because of the danger of having it compromised when the inevitable lousy passwords are used by people who can’t be bothered to secure their personal data locker. Yet the increasing ubiquity of Facebook, Google, and Twitter-based identity systems make it more and more likely that this is a danger anyway. I’m proposing that some smart people determine a well-designed way for the 80% of us who care and want to solve this problem to be able to do so and gain more control over our data.

And why would businesses care about the API of Me? Consumers are social beings who want to have relationships with the businesses they use. They may not actually want to be contacted by those businesses, but they do want to know how and why their information is being used, and some of them even want to have the option of being paid for the use of this information. Businesses can use this knowledge to open up whole new personalized markets that don’t exist today, and better avoid alienating customers who really want to opt out.

The Future: Personal Data and Micro-segmentation

Right, you say, what if everyone opts out? But they won’t. Businesses built more like the Apple App Store, the Zappos shoe-buying experience, the Amazon online store, and the Nordstrom clothing business will thrive with better, more data-driven relationships with customers. And lower-end, logistics-savvy companies like Wal*Mart are already using Big Data in the aggregate to deliver diapers, beer, and other necessities to communities in advance of a forecasted weather event.

The future of micro-segmentation depends upon the consumer being able to self-segment. And whether that desire is to provide as much information as possible in exchange for payment or to opt-out completely, The API of Me gives consumers the ability to specify what data they will share and how they will share it, and companies a reliable near-infinite segmentation that they can use to better serve customers and open new markets.