The Big Reverse Of The Web

Editor’s note: Dries Buytaert is the co-founder and CTO of Acquia and the inventor of Drupal.

Here is one idea that arrived before its time: the push-based web, where information comes to us, versus the search-dominant web we’re most familiar with. Those who are looking at the push web in the context of a new mobile and connected device-centric world might be having a real 90s flashback (remember PointCast?), except this time the push web could take off and transform the economy as we know it.

With devices like Apple Watch shipping without a Safari browser, we’ll have to rely on highly personal bits of incoming relevant information. And now that companies can collect enough data from our ever-present devices, they have the opportunity to master one-to-one communications.

This Time, It’s Personal

We’re witnessing the slow decline of industries that fail to cater to the individual. The first real disruptors in this vein were aggregators: sites like Facebook that created a single destination and curated content that mattered to an individual. Publishers like The New York Times clearly felt the pain of Facebook’s disintermediation of their news, even recently giving Facebook first-mover rights on articles before publishing on The New York Times website.

The real reason Facebook may be winning over traditional publishers is this one-to-one understanding of the consumer, or the ability to tailor what people see in their newsfeeds to their personal interests. Few, if any, traditional publishers have mastered this dynamic. Beyond publishing, other mainstays ranging from malls to record stores have experienced similar fallout from aggregators and personal algorithms (think about the customization achieved through the Spotify or Pandora effect).

In order for companies to survive in this new custom-everything world, they need to both co-exist with current aggregators and harness the data they collect within their own user platform to get direct, one-to-one connections to their customers. Rather than rely solely on the few successful, third-party power aggregators like Facebook, for the sake of fair competition, companies should invest in retaining control over their own data and customer experiences. From there, any connected device can serve as a conduit for one-to-one communications. The smaller the screen and more personal the customer experience, the more opportunity there is for the push web to thrive.

Data-Driven: Well…Almost

While the idea of data-driven decisions has been talked about a lot, very few companies are doing it well. As a frequent flyer, I’m regularly frustrated by how little the airline and hotel industry knows about me. In a perfect world, if my flight from Boston to San Francisco is canceled because of weather, the airline’s partner hotel chain should know and push a room recommendation as a notification to my iPhone.

Google Now has taken the idea of live information pushed through cards and delivered it directly to the consumer. I envision a near future where this concept will be applied across many different industries, eliminating the friction from basic tasks like shopping for a birthday gift. Right now, if I see that my friend has a birthday on Facebook, I might spend hours searching for the perfect gift for her.

In the future, my phone might know what types of gift this particular friend prefers and proactively push a card of recommendations to my phone’s home screen 10 days before her birthday. With just a few clicks, I can get that gift delivered, gift-wrapped, to her doorstep. The implications of this idea are much larger than just convenient shopping; it could mean gaining hours of personal productivity per day that were once spent searching the web with browsers.

A Smarter Economy

These one-to-one interactions and deep understanding of individuals won’t be limited to the consumer experience — it could also disrupt production of goods. Today, we try to anticipate consumer demand and create mass amounts of products that are pushed to the market via global distribution channels and marketing. A push economy could mean an end to standardized products and the introduction of highly customized goods and services, produced on-demand and delivered to consumers.

Take shoes for example. A customer could buy a pair of running shoes equipped with sensors to gather data about the condition of the shoes and the habits of the runner. That connected shoe will communicate with the apparel manufacturer to notify the brand when the sneakers are worn out and the owner is in need of a new pair. From there, the company could reach out to the customer reminding them to buy new shoes and directing them to a relevant sale. Or, to take it a step further, the company could analyze the consumer’s stride, cross reference it with the time it took for the shoe to wear out, and create a custom shoe specific to that person’s running style and habits.

It’s a huge opportunity to customize goods and minimize waste. Furthermore, traditional online and offline retailers could face a real threat, as the one-to-one relationship between brands and consumers jumps over middlemen. This level of personalization may even signal a return to our pre-Industrial Revolution roots, where goods were always tailor-made for individuals based on personal preferences, sizes and more.

We’re creeping closer and closer to a fully realized Internet where we don’t need to search for information; it will come to us. (One sign of the “pull-web-pocalypse”: formerly popular browsers are shuttering.) To adapt, companies need to recognize that the opportunity is far more vast than it was in the 90s. A combination of new user platforms, the ability to act on data, and new devices are the perfect storm it will take to make the push web work in 2015 and beyond.