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How Will You Manage Your Digital Self?

You can't keep track of all the digital content you generate. In the next five years, expect vendors to come to the rescue with digital-self services.
The challenges of managing digital selves represent a big business opportunity for both giant Internet companies and startups. They're angling to get closer to the customer by adding more context and capabilities. These services for the digital self such as the capabilities in offerings like Tipbit, Otixo, Intuit's Mint, and Google Now will define the next generation of online interaction. But as this competition intensifies, companies will jockey for position, cutting in on each other's turf as they vie to be more essential to the customer.

Because all this content is digital, there are no barriers to entry in this competition. Three forces will heat up the competition: 1) a drive to aggregate, combine and orchestrate across multiple services to make new features possible; 2) a desire to get closer to the customers' core needs; and 3) the ability to drive new business models, and gather customers and masses of data to make money from advertising and premium services. Look for these dynamics to develop in three stages.

Stage 1: Satisfying simple needs (2008 to 2013).
Consumers moved from managing their content based on the device to a cloud-based model where the device didn't matter.

Five years ago, expanding device diversity (iPhones, iPads, multiple PCs) drove people to start putting data into the first personal cloud services. Services for file syncing and sharing exploded, with Dropbox amassing more than 175 million users worldwide by July 2013. Other services arrived, most enabled by flexible, inexpensive cloud infrastructure from Amazon Web Services. Services became more diverse than just file sync, like Evernote for saving, organizing and searching for notes and Apple's iCloud for general personal content and preferences inside many different applications.

Stage 2: Services for the digital self (2014 to 2016).
People using different services begin experimenting with intelligent applications that do more than just store and provide access.

In this stage, providers will help individuals search, organize and manage across many digital-self services, not just one. And new vertical services players will enter the market, offering an overview of an individual's financial, retail or medical life by maintaining their data in these areas. These vertical services will function as digital advisors, similar to how financial or health advisors now work in the physical world. The battle for managing digital-self services will cause a lot of expansion and poaching as providers compete for a maturing market.

Stage 3: Curated ecosystems (2017 to 2019).
Ecosystems of services for the digital self emerge in which a core provider offers a range of integrated services.

The expansion stage in the middle of the decade will lead to a shakeout. Buyers, having started out with a variety of automated and intelligent services, will become annoyed with trying to manage services that don't work well together. They will also become frustrated with paying for a bunch of premium services and will consolidate the number of services and providers they have to manage.

These curated ecosystems don’t yet exist in a form we recognize. But we can see early hints in what Amazon does to personalize your shopping experience and to upsell the Amazon Prime service for shipping, movies and Cloud Drive. Other examples include how Google complements its core offerings with API interfaces that other parties can build on, such as Rapportive to add social profiles to Gmail. Facebook Connect, Dropbox APIs, and Evernote Market are other emerging examples of curated ecosystems that will mark the late stages of the digital self.