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Thoughts on Ford’s OpenXC: In The Future, Brands With Open Data Will Win

By - August 18, 2013

Ford Open XCI spent today at the first-ever Boing Boing Ingenuity, a two-day hackathon cum “vaudeville show” – truly Boing Boing brought to life. It made me so proud to see the essence of conversational marketing at work – a major brand adding deep value to a community, an independent publisher realizing its dream of celebrating its voice and community through a unique event that built up online over many months.

Here’s the Twitter stream. It was really great. And the main insight I took away was this: Brands will soon have no choice but to become data (because we are all becoming data, after all). A car creates tons of data every mile it is driven, for example. Faced with this fact, how might a car brand respond? It could see that data as its private asset, put up fences around it, and make that data really difficult for the driver (and society at large) to access. Or, it could act like Ford did, and tack in the direction of openness.

Ford has created a platform called OpenXC that opens APIs into 50 or so data streams coming out of your car. On the first day of Ingenuity, teams of makers, hackers, and regular folks came up with amazing ideas that leveraged Ford’s innovative platform. For example, one team built an app that senses when a pet or child is in your car, then monitors the car’s internal temperature. If it gets too hot, this app can lower the windows, turn on the AC, and text the car’s owner. I mean, how cool is that?!

Boing Boing’s editors presented the winners on stage on Sunday during Ingenuity, a day long celebration of, well, the weird and wonderful people and ideas that make Boing Boing, Boing Boing. There was a hack that turned driving data into music – if you drive aggressively and waste resources, the music gets aggravating. If you drive well, it gets soothing. Another hack interpreted braking, steering, and other information into new signals for other drivers – imagine a taillight flashing “Thank you!’ when someone lets you merge into oncoming traffic, for example. Yet another hack took all that data and turned it into a “cost per trip” dashboard that gamifies driving and encourages you to drive in a way that saves money.

These kinds of innovations can only occur in an ecosystem of openness. As our society tips toward one based on data, our collective decisions around how that data can be used will determine what kind of a culture we live in. And what I observed at Ingenuity strengthened my belief that companies that lean into an open approach to data will win. There will soon be streams of data coming from all manner of products – appliances, clothing, sporting goods, you name it. Wouldn’t you rather live in a world where you can export the data from your son’s football helmet to a new app that monitors force and impact against a cohort of high school players around the country? Or would a better world be one where Riddell Inc. owns and controls that data?

Way back in 2008 I wrote a piece about Facebook and data called It’s Time For Services on The Web to Compete On More Than Data. My point was this: winning on a strategy of data lockdown is a short-term play. What matters is the service you provide on top of that data. For companies like Ford, the key won’t be to lock in customer data and try to be the best at leveraging your proprietary insights. It’ll be allowing your customers to take that data out, remix it into a robust ecosystem, and feed it back to your company and products, so they can get better. Companies will compete on how they best leverage a customer’s data, not on whether or not they’ve locked those customers’ data assets in (are you listening, cable companies?!).

Of course, a true test of this optimistic scenario will come when GM, Toyota, or other car companies join Ford in offering a data platform, and a long-time Ford customer buys a Chevy. Will Ford let that customer take their data over to GM? Time will tell, but I know where I come down: Openness and portability will win in the end.

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