Before I begin, allow me to acknowledge that I DO recognize how asinine it is to attempt to organize technology and its evolutions in a neat system of points (1.0 was the age of portals, 2.0 the age of Social, etc.). Clearly, the discussion/landscape is much more nuanced.
That being said, many predict that the future Web (“Web 3.0”) is a semantic one, driven by a tremendous amount of Data. An age where the lines between tech and human awareness are blurred. An age where our machines often know us better than our own mothers (a bit unsettling, I know). An age where our technological warlords force us to do their bidding (okay, that one’s a Sci-Fi fantasy…could happen, though).
We’ve seen manifestations of this future through behaviorally targeted ads that follow us across our browsing experience. Search engines that can predict our queries before we complete our first word, let alone sentence. Social applications that know an astonishing amount about us and our closest friends (or frienemies in some cases).
Our e-commerce experience has also been shaped by this “subtle” form of technological stalking. For many of us, sites such as Amazon are at the centerpiece of our digital shopping universe. We go there to buy music, movies, electronics, clothing, toiletries…..what doesn’t Jeff Bezos freaking sell?!
Beyond pushing merchandise of all flavors, the foundation of Amazon is, of course, their powerful suggestion engine. As we browse items, add to our carts, make purchases- Amazon is tracking us all the way. The data collected is used to develop robust, personal user profiles, which allow Amazon to suggest very relevant items, offers, etc. for US (based on MY interests, and the interests of others like ME).
From a practical standpoint, this helps Amazon drive incremental sales and revenue. In essence, they are able to bring to the surface products that a user would be interested in, but may have otherwise missed (pushing items vs. relying exclusively on pull). Moreover, the amount of data that they have generated on individual users like myelf, allows Amazon to “get us” in ways that very few platforms/companies can.
Amazon Gets Silky
Recently, Amazon announced their version of an Android tablet, the Kindle Fire. This moment was compelling news on many different fronts:
- Amazon was diving head-first into the Android pool; not simply dabbling in the shallow Software-end, but fearlessly treading into the deep-end of offering their own device solution.
- The Fire would be priced aggressively, making it the “potential iPad killer” of the month (still not buying that one).
- The device would be chock-full of all of Amazon’s proprietary content goodness: Kindle books, Amazon MP3s, etc.
And then there was Silk, Amazon’s own browser, created specifically for their tablet. Beyond the shock of the company moving into the browser game, Silk promised a few very revolutionary (or potentially revolutionary), Mobile browsing features.
The majority of media outlets/curious end users focused on the performance elements. Unlike other browser offerings, Silk would render pages in dual-fashion. Part of the heavy lifting would occur via the Cloud, with certain elements of web pages being delivered courtesy of Amazon’s own servers. Part would come from local rendering on the Fire itself. This tandem effort would allegedly increase speed of loading, making our Mobile browsing experience that much better (and all of us happy, Mobile campers).
I, myself, gravitated towards a small, but potentially monumental revelation: “Silk will also predict your browsing habits”. Now, this feature certainly is tied to the performance element as much as anything. By anticipating the pages a user is likely to visit next, the browser is able to pre-load; again increasing the speed/quality of experience.
However, a more potentially powerful use/reality exists.
If I were to visit ESPN.com, Silk would theoretically be able to determine that I am a football fan first and foremost, and that my favorite team is the Denver Broncos (Tebow Time!). As a result, it could make the accurate presumption that I would be looking for news/articles specific to those interests, and preemptively serve me the appropriate pages/content.
If I were visiting a restaurant’s site, Silk may recognize based on previous browsing behaviors (foodie blog visits, other restaurant sites, etc.), that I have a weakness for a great burger. It could then highlight the menu section/food descriptions that would best satisfy this culinary preference.
Certainly this capability already exists at the individual site level. Our web experiences are often customized based on cookies or user profiles that are activated by the sign-in. However, there is no underlying thread that allows for ubiquitous/consistent personalization as we move through disparate properties. Though Facebook has very much attempted this (and succeeded to a certain degree via Open Graph), the most seamless/all-encompassing unification would likely occur at the browser level (as it is the foundation/constant of our Web experience).
Aside from the browser that Amazon now has, it has also:
- Accumulated a significant amount of data and behavioral insights on its own site property (as we discussed earlier).
- Developed a sophisticated engine/algorithm to make use of said data/insights (as also discussed earlier).
Combine all of these ingredients, and Amazon has all of a sudden put itself in a position to not only compete in “Web 3.0”, but potentially lead the charge. Historically, the tendency has been to view the company as a digital provider of tangible goods- I, for one, believe that it is time to drastically alter that opinion, Folks.