Friday, December 5, 2008

When will you know who I am? The Business of Lifestreaming...

Controlling "Who We Are" through User Generated Content

Lifestreaming is becoming mainstream. According to eMarketer 42% of adults online in the US are “content creators”. By 2012, eMarketer projects that 50% of the online population will fall under the same category (I think that’s conservative). As a result, there’s a growing demand for consumer tools that help organize their public profiles.

In the same way that businesses find it critical to keep on top of user reviews and listing accuracy in online directories for their store locations and business profile details, individuals are starting to see the importance of keeping clean and accurate records on themselves.

Catering to this trend is the emergence and rapid growth of aggregator sites that crawl the web to collect all data on individuals and organize it in a rich directory style. While Googling people has always been a popular pastime, there’s a new breed of laser focused people engines popping up that are much deeper in scope than Google, LinkedIn or ZoomInfo.

As an example, 123people.com is a people search tool that acts like a universal search engine. The site gathers data and displays it using categories like web links, images, videos, news etc. The Austrian start-up launched in beta into the US early this year and appears to be seeing significant growth.

Other sites that provide similar services include Profilactic and Naymz but they don't seem to be as comprehensive as 123people.com because they are based on member registration and input rather than aggregated search. The downside to the aggregated search of course, is that the amount of incorrect or irrelevant data increases. This however, leads to consumer participation in correcting the data and even going as far as to hire reputation managers to enhance visible content like ReputationDefender.

With directories like this available to the public, it makes it much easier to see just how much content is generated and shared by each individual. With all the sharing going on, I wonder if this will lead to consumers expecting others to have a greater understanding of who they are. Celebrities are used to having the public know every detail about their lives, but this new breed of fame is starting to filter into the mainstream and transparency is leading to a new kind of perceived “status”.

Tying Lifestreams to CRM

While the thought of behavioral targeting can be a major turn-off to consumers, the volume of information that is volunteered on a daily basis through lifestreaming is staggering. As people start to invest more heavily in their public "status", it makes sense that they will expect some returns. I wonder if marketers will pick up on this desire to be understood publicly and develop their CRM systems (permission based of course) around this rich data.

To date, marketers have been limited to customer data that relates to past business activity and/or basic demographic information through direct marketing strategies. If you view the aggregation of lifestreams as the white pages of tomorrow, imagine the data that would be at the disposal of marketing companies.

I recently had two customer service experiences that were influenced by my past behavior or current profile. A telco waived a service fee because of my past business with them (although I had to hold for 10 minutes while they looked it up on what seemed to be their Commodore 64) and a courier bent over backwards to make good on a mishap when I introduced myself as an average consumer that happened to blog a lot. My point here is that businesses care about these details but they simply haven’t had the luxury of push access to the data.

Maybe it’s flighty in a space shippy, twighlight zoney kind of way, but imagine calling into a business that can read through (in the spirit of white pages) reverse look-up or any other type of login, an aggregated view of my opinions, likes, dislikes and probability to buy. Suddenly, a business with a smart data base could customize a pitch and price that is unique to my profile based on information that I have streamed up to “anyone willing to view it”. If analyzed correctly, a high influencer might be given an incentive to refer business or an apparent introvert might be offered an upgraded privacy product.

Move this to mobile and see highly contextual promotions appear (pushed or pulled) based on location and social data indexed from the consumer. One of my favourite early peeks at what this might look like is L'Oreal's experimentation in Paris with the iPhone application that acts as a customer service rep at the point of sale (more on this when I write up "my favourite things" for OneDegree.ca). Consumers still need to feed the engines and the truth is, they're ok with that. It may be a matter of time before they feel that they've fed enough though and that their contributions to the web ought to be aggregated and organized to represent who they really are.

I wonder how space shippy this concept really is? High level business executives have used Jungian based Myers Briggs and other profiling data to improve their negotiations and business development practices, why wouldn't the same principles apply at the consumer level?

From what I've seen, the technology has a long way to go before it truly captures its potential value. There are annoying caching issues and semantic hurdles that need to be addressed but I do believe that offering aggregated profile content and allowing users to control it is smart. Owning significant market share in profile content organization in the long term is brilliant...

2 comments:

Udi Drezner said...

Thanks for the info Sonia.

I think that sites like 123people.com and Zoominfo, that create an online profile on you without your consent, will keep on popping up as long as searching people online becomes even more popular.

Keeping track of all these sites, signing in to them and correcting the info, can be very time consuming and sometimes non-trivial for the average user.

I think it's time that people will start representing themselves professionally online, especially professionals that can benefit from business leads.

For this propose, I do recommend people to create online profiles on LinkedIn and LookupPage, which you didn't mention.

Sonia Carreno said...

Hi Udi, thanks for your comment - yes I agree that people should control what they can of their online reputation. LinkedIn is a good place to start and thanks for referencing the lesser known Lookuppage. Another option that is coming into vogue is setting up personal Wikipedia pages. It seems that there is no shortage of self promotion available online these days!

Aggregators are good in that they can show people what is out there that can and should be controlled.