Walled Gardens and Other Data Gathering Futures

When I started in digital circa 2008, few people thought of privacy. They posted content to social media publicly, mostly for friends and family.

As Instagram’s monthly active users start to decline, we’re seeing the official death of connection-based social media. Instead, we see a bevvy of TikTokers saying something to the effect of, “If you know me in real life, don’t follow me.”

Social media is performative in a new way. Welcome of the new creator era, where people are creating for strangers and instead of watching TV, people are tuning into TikTok.

In the early 2010s I created (or took a part in creating):

  • Software that predicted where people would be in the future based on their check-ins and social posts. (As far as I know this was only used to predict where celebrities would be in the future. Still, in retrospect, I feel a little bad for building this.)
  • A product that predicted factors like people’s income, interests, and aspirations based on the things they posted online.
  • A forecasting platform that ingested posts and predicted hot new trends and/or trendy spots.

As privacy becomes more important and people stop posting for personal connections, platforms like the ones mentioned above are collecting data about a much smaller group of people (aka, the creators).

Marketers say this is the beginning of opt-in marketing, where people say what they want and get only that.

I appreciate this shift, but believe the process of creating profiles and getting the information you want is far too tedious. Even pre-filled form fields aren’t enough to take the pain away.

People are demanding more personalization at the precise moment when data sources are dying.

Or maybe they’re not dying, they are moving.

Here are three predictions for the future of data gathering and the personalized web.

  • As the Internet moves into walled gardens, every company needs form fills form customers.  If the aughts valued click bait, the 2020’s will treasure the behind-the-scenes optimizers that convince people to hit submit.
  • Progressive profiling is still messy, but it’ll get better.
    • If I ran an Internet browser today I would leverage this fact. Rather than just collect and save people’s names, emails, addresses, and other information for pre-populating form fills, I would ask if the user wants me to save any form fill, just in case they want to call on that information in the future.
    • I also assume that Elon Musk-owned ChatGPT is also going to do something similar. They haven’t revealed their revenue strategy, but they are saving everyone’s search queries and predicting $1 billion in revenue in 2024. I could be wrong, but it seems like selling data may be the shortest path to profitability.
  • The metaverse doesn’t have mass adoption yet and many people experimenting with platforms like decentraland are still defaults (a sorta derogatory term for people who haven’t customized their avatars yet). But in the future, when everyone has an avatar and those avatars are decked out in custom clothing, we’ll have an online profile of self expression.
    The digital versions of our selves will reveal a lot about who we are and who we want to become. People capable of mining the metaverse for this kind of data will be invaluable to brands in the future.

As usual, the world is changing. It will be interesting to see where it all goes.

About the author: Entrepreneur with ten years of experience running a digital marketing agency out of New York City. I work with startups and brands such as Virgin Airlines, L2 Inc (Gartner), American Express, Fabletics, LOFT, and more. When I’m not helping companies increase their audience and revenues, I love to travel, sail, and read. I also moonlight as a bartender at a classic cocktail bar.