Todays online services are focused on the individual consumer where your personal experience is put first. Knowledge of what you want or need in your current situation and location is gold. In my opinion, this is what Web 2.0 is basically about: persuading people and making it very easy for them to provide such knowledge.
The excellent movie Minority Report (2002) shows a rather ghastly glimpse into the future. At a certain point in the movie, John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) walks through a commercial area. The billboards recognize him and display personalized, screaming ads. Now, I don’t expect to see bill boards screaming at me in the near future, but here’s a scenario that could be reality now:
I have made reservations for a nice dinner for two in a small restaurant that was recommended to me by a friend. The reservation application mashes Google calendar, Google maps and a table reservation system. I drag my vCard and drop it on Thursday evening. Three seconds later, I receive an e-mail from the restaurant that the reservation has been confirmed.
When my wife and I step into our car, the car accesses my calendar and automatically programs the navigation system for the parking area nearest to the restaurant. While we are driving there, the navigation system keeps track of the free lots in that parking area and attempts to find alternatives without my intervention. I simply see a route change.
We arrive at the gate of the parking area. The gate displays the friendly message: “Good evening mister Nankman, thank you for using our services. The nearest free lots are on the 3d floor”. My smartphone exchanges payment information with the gate, and the gate opens.
We park on the 3d floor and step out of the car. As I look around for an exit, my phone buzzes. It pops up a local street map and instructs me to take exit 7, cross the street and go left. The restaurant is at the end of the street. We arrive only 17 minutes early at the restaurant where we are warmly greeted by the owner. Our table (non-smoking, as preferred) is ready and we are seated and served right away.
We enjoy a lovely dinner and simply leave when we are finished. My phone takes care of the bill and pops up a dialog where we can rate the received services. We rate it 4 (out of 5) stars. It was all excellent.
As we walk along the street back to the car, my wife suddenly stops at a Kitchen store and says “hey, look at this! Don’t those plates and wine glasses look familiar to you? We ate our dinner from the exact same plates!”.
Later, at home, when I check my e-mail, I see that I have received a coupon for 1 hour free parking in the parking area where I parked my car. I also see an e-mail from the restaurant offering me a 25 Euro gift certificate for the Kitchen store if I recommend the restaurant to a friend. It occurs to me that my buddy Frank and his girlfriend would certainly like that restaurant too. I send the recommendation to him right away. What are friends for, eh…
This whole experience from making the reservations at the restaurant to receiving those e-mails is seamless. The nicest thing about all this is that I can use my phone to pay bills, open gates and get local directions. The restaurant owner got an alert 5 minutes before we arrived (because I allowed the restaurant to track my progress) allowing him to walk to the door and welcome us. Very convenient and easy. We felt we received special treatment.
All this made me provide much information voluntarily:
- a reservation made by a non-smoking, male, 37 year old person living in location A for restaurant X in location B,
- that a male, 37 year old person from location A has spent 96 euros at restaurant “Chez Albert” and rated that restaurant’s services 4 stars,
- that I have parked my car at parking area “so-and-so” from 18.40 to 21.50 (6.40 p.m. to 9.50 p.m.) and payed with my smartphone,
- and the name and e-mail address of a friend.
In return I got a seamless and tailored experience that was made possible by a number of businesses smartly combining their services. Of course, there is no direct causality from my submissions. These businesses need a sufficiently large market to be able to profit from offering such tailored services. That market is formed by all the other people that would enjoy similar services. And in the above scenario, I have just added myself and another potential to such market.
I believe this is all possible with today’s technology. Keys are service orientation, public Web APIs that are based on open standards for maximizing mixability (hey, did I just invent a new non-functional requirement type?), public Web APIs, and – very, very important – high-end visual tools for designing and developing rich and usable web applications.