I’m beta testing a new service called Memolane, which collects the breadcrumbs we drop around the web (from Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, RSS, etc) and visualizes them as a timeline. It’s not fair for me to review the service at this point – I’ll save that for later. Rather, I’m interested in what it augurs: The rise of metaservices.
The problem/opportunity addressed by metaservices has been worked to death by folks far smarter than I – in particular by well-intentioned developers looking to create better standards for services to share data. But so far solutions have failed to address the market opportunity. I think this is going to change, in the main, because we’ll demand it does.
Let me step back and describe the problem. In short, heavy users of the web depend on scores – sometimes hundreds – of services, all of which work wonderfully for their particular purpose (eBay for auctions, Google for search, OpenTable for restaurant reservations, etc). But these services simply don’t communicate with each other, nor collaborate in a fashion that creates a robust or evolving ecosystem.
The rise of the app economy exacerbates the problem – most apps live in their own closed world, sharing data sparingly, if at all. And while many have suggested that Facebook’s open social graph can help untangle the problem, in fact it only makes it worse, as Fred put it in a recent post (which sparked this Thinking Out Loud session for me):
The people I want to follow on Etsy are not the same people I want to follow on Twitter. The people I want to follow on Svpply are not my Facebook friends. I don’t want to sharemy Foursquare checkins with everyone on Twitter and Facebook.
Like nearly all of us, Fred’s got a social graph instrumentation problem and a service data-sharing problem. Here’s what he suggests:
I would like to be able to run these people through all my social graphs on other services (not just Facebook and Twitter) and also my phone contacts and my emails to help me filter them and quickly add those people if I think they would make the social experience on the specific service useful to me.
When you break it down, what Fred is asking is this:
1. That each service he uses will make the data that he creates available to any other service with which he wishes to share.
2. That each service he uses be capable of leveraging that data.
For that to happen, every app, every site, and every service needs to be more than just an application or a content directory. It needs to be a platform, capable of negotiating ongoing relationships with other platforms on behalf of its customers in real time. This, of course, is what Facebook does already. Soon, I believe, every single service of scale will work in a similar fashion.
When you think about a world in which this idea comes true, all sorts of new services become possible: Metaservices, services which couldn’t exist unless they had the oxygen of other services’ datastreams to consume. At present, I can’t really think of any such services that are currently at scale. (I can think of some promising stuff in early stages – Memolane and Percolate come to mind.)
Sure, tons of services use Facebook connect to leverage our social graph. But that’s a half step. So is authorizing or logging into a site via Twitter. Solves a simple problem, but doesn’t add much value beyond that.
But I’ve noticed a trend of late. While a year ago I’d only see a “service connection” happen between an app and Facebook or Twitter, lately I’ve noticed such connections happening all over the place – with LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, and many others. I think it’s only a matter of time – and not much of it – before we have a “metaservice” hit on our hands – an entirely new and delightful service that curates our digital lives and adds value above the level of a single site.
Perhaps it’s already out there. What have you seen that qualifies as a metaservice today?