So what's the next step, I asked? Do people start wearing biometric tokens that send signals to devices in the neighborhood, letting you know when you're in their vicinity so they can respond by tweeting you to please buy them?
Sure, why not, comes the swift response from Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. Last August, as regular ReadWriteWeb readers will recall, Benioff astounded his audience at the Dreamforce conference with the mind-alteringly imminent notion that Coke machines should become aware of their customers' presence, and respond through their iPhones with bargains and loyalty points. Of course, Benioff's idea at that time relied upon the customer always having his iPhone with him. This time, at the Cloudforce conference in New York this morning, Benioff one-upped his own idea with the notion that a biometric bracelet could supply interested products and devices in the wearer's immediate vicinity with a kind of identity signal.
Benioff's suggestion was brief and simple: Not just applications, but people working remotely, can get a better understanding of customers' needs if they had vision into the context of where they are and what they're doing. As demonstrated earlier in the day, a financial sales team might have immensely greater comprehension of the urgency of a customer's needs if they were to see that she was at the bank, that she was talking to a loan officer, and that she had started filling out the paperwork for a mortgage application.
You're not being very helpful
The roadblock preventing that sales team from knowing this information already lies with the customer's ability or willingness to share. Follow my logic, if you will, as it weaves its way past a dense forest of psychology and pathology. Not everyone tweets everything, you see. And that's a problem, because your needs while you're at a gas station or a coffee shop may be very different from when you're starting to fill out a mortgage application. What's keeping you from tweeting, "I'm filling out loan paperwork?" Is your keyboard not big enough? Is there not time enough in-between your other tweets where you reveal that you were in the car, and that you got out of the car? Has the proper hashtag "#MORTGAGEAPP" not been created yet?
"Products need to become much more social," says Benioff. But they can only do that if people can talk to products, and people don't talk to products. At least they don't now. This is where the bracelet comes in. It could talk to products in the language of products. Maybe it can tell your car that you're standing next to it. Imagine if your ignition key only worked for you but not for anyone else? Your biometric bracelet could identify you as the proper bearer of the key. If someone stole your bracelet, it wouldn't work for that person because the bracelet might know your fingerprint and your heartbeat rhythm.
This vision starts to make sense. Imagine if a first responder station could immediately respond if you were in an accident and couldn't reach the OnStar button yourself. Imagine being able to audit the location(s) of your teenage son throughout the day and night. There is enormous benefit to the notion of something being able to signal who and where you are.
From information in isolation, it becomes academic to move to information in the aggregate. How many teenage boys within a given county or district are outside of school between the hours of 1:00 and 2:00 pm? How many get into accidents? What are they driving? Just minutes before Benioff showed off his bracelet, Salesforce senior vice president Kraig Swensrud demonstrated Radian6, the company's tool for displaying real-time, live social data about interests, activities, and conversations. With Radian6, you know which customers are talking about what products and when. And it's just as academic to move to information in the aggregate. How many customers over 40? Male? At home? At the bank? Filling out a mortgage application?
Where to put the filter
This is tomorrow's dilemma, the one that faces society when, as Benioff predicts, it abandons e-mail in favor of persistent, live connections. In today's social networks, there are "groups" (Facebook) and "circles" (Google +) that let users establish their own filters, for restricting the degree to which information gets automatically shared. How will we establish similar filters once it becomes possible for our location, our present activity, and our heart rate to become broadcast to every salesman on the planet? And how do we decide the extent to which our 24/7 broadcast of personal information gets aggregated into bar charts and pie charts? We may tell ourselves that no one can tell who and where we are from an aggregate chart, but in reality, it's just as academic a process to drill down as it is to build up.
So do we create "circles" for who gets our heart rate and who doesn't? Doctors, certainly. Bankers, maybe. Politicians, probably not. And how do we decide who these people are who deserve to see our personal data? Perhaps we could create rules. Only bankers in our county? Only doctors affiliated with folks we know? Maybe our friends have gone to certain doctors before. Perhaps we can find that out.
Maybe if we do some drilling down ourselves. Let's see a map of all the doctors my friends have ever visited. Let's see how well they rated. On second thought, let's see how well they rated among folks I care about. Do you suppose this doctor follows his own exercise regimen and goes jogging every afternoon? Between 2 and 5? Let's find out.
If that's not something we're permitted to know... then for heaven's sake, why? Why would a legitimate businessperson put a filter on his personal information? Doesn't he want to attract customers? Doesn't he care about his business? How will we learn more about this person? To paraphrase Marc Benioff, how can we become friends with our products?
Perhaps if we ask the products themselves. Surely there must be aggregate data available from the stores he's visited, the clothes he's tried on, the Coke machines he's walked past. And now you see what I'm getting at. Once you place something in the public domain, you can't bottle it up any more. If the cloud "knows" where you've been, and your filter says you don't want certain people (or things) knowing about it, what is to stop an agent from deducing this information from other sources with which you've had contact, including (and especially) other things over which you have no control?