The return to sharing and co-operation is one way to take on the tech giants
A view from Russell Davies

The return to sharing and co-operation is one way to take on the tech giants

Last week, we lamented the fading of the "web 2.0" dream: the erosion of a data-sharing economy based on feeds and APIs, specifically the demise...

I pinned the blame for this lost paradise on the tendency of the large technology companies to want to wall around their users and data. It’s the data they use to sell advertising. They don’t want to share that with anyone.

But, I hinted, the story might be different for you and your clients and that’s where we take up the tale again…

Last week, Under Armour bought an app company called MapMyFitness for $150 million. It clearly believes the "quantified self" is a business worth being in. Nike and Adidas are pursuing similar ideas.

It's the data the large tech companies use to sell advertising. They don't want to share that with anyone

They’re selling tools that let people measure their performance, their fitness, their activity. So are businesses such as Fitbit and Withings. And they’re almost all pursuing a locked-in, locked-down strategy based on their own particular data and algorithms. They all measure your steps, but it’s very hard to carry your data from one service to another. They’re desperate to lock you into their version of the quantified self, to their quantification, but none of them is big or dominant enough for a single definition to become the standard. So the risk is, as soon as one of the big technology players starts to define a fitness or activity metric, then that will become the default.

Very few individual businesses will be able to counter this through scale; the only way to take it on will be to co-operate, to build ecosystems on open standards. That’s the way the web works – it could work again. But, of course, it demands some openness; some willingness to surrender proprietary advantage to build a bigger market. Otherwise, it’s possible that potential consumer businesses such as quantified self-health-tracking will founder. These businesses have been through all the traditional early stages: the hack days, the evangelistic blog posts, the sceptical coverage in the mainstream media, the enthusiastic acquisitions, the early adopter enthusiasm and disillusionment. But now they need to scale, to get mass consumer acceptance – that demands common currencies; portable, swappable data formats that enable the same kind of flourishing ecosystem that grew up on the web. That’s not going to happen if every data garden is a walled one, if it’s just small pieces that can’t be joined. The only winners then will be the huge technology gatekeepers you’re already worried about.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
@undermanager