announced a new feature for its web analytics product this week that illustrates well the potential in anonymous aggregate data analysis. This siloed product announcement points to an even more exciting future if data portability dreams come true.Google
Google Analytics Industry Benchmarking will let users opt-in to share and have access to aggregate traffic info for websites in their industry vertical and at other points in their supply chain. (See sample screenshot below.)
The idea is to allow companies to compare their website performance over time and to put their experiences in context with the experiences of other related businesses. If an action you took seemed to have caused a big traffic spike, it would be good to confirm that it was not just an industry-wide traffic increase that actually occurred. Likewise, if traffic growth for your business has a particularly strong correlation with growth in a related businesses sector, then some biz dev time might be warranted there.
Online invoicing service FreshBooks has been doing the same kind of thing for individual contractors for some time ("other consultants in your field are getting their invoices paid on average 2 weeks faster than you are"). Personal finance service Mint compares your spending habits to those of other users, NetWorthIQ uses aggregate financial data for wealth benchmarks and Yahoo!'s MyBlogLog displays aggregate traffic trends for users with similar web browsing interests.
These kinds of data driven value add are enabled in most cases by the network effect of a successful app but also by the world of web services. If recommendation engines are often the result of aggregate information analyzed and pointed at an individual, then industry benchmarks may be the flipside - aggregate information aimed at organizations.
Just add data portability to change the game
The new Google Analytics Benchmarks are a peek into an exciting future and a further example of how data portability could yield even further innovation. Today a huge business like Google can best scale these kinds of data sets in-house, but imagine a future when secure data portability is a reality.
If users could port their commercial or behavioral data from service to service, then analysis of significant aggregate data could take on forms limited only by an innovator's imagination and ability to persuade users to bring their data to the party. That kind of value add could become the core of any number of services in the future. It's very exciting.
Standards based data portability is clearly not a requirement for startups to be able to quickly scale services based on analysis of anonymous aggregate data, but it would be a game changer by making this kind of innovation much, much easier. For now we'll have to enjoy innovation in the big data silos and imagine the future when this kind of access to data is blown wide open for vendors.