The Battle To Serve Your Digital Self

Forrester’s surveys show that individuals all over the world are using personal cloud technologies to store their personal and work stuff — files, contacts, photos, music, and videos — in online services. In the US, 77% of online adults use one or more of these services, while in Europe 61% do so. As a result, there’s now a new Internet gold rush to help you build your “digital self” — to help you access, manage, and benefit from your digital information using any smartphone, tablet, PC, or web browser.

Once your digital self is stored in online services, it becomes possible for providers to serve you with not only automated storage but also advice. These providers do things like automatically uploading your digital photos, synchronizing your contacts everywhere, and automatically assembling your expense report from photos, scans, or emails of receipts. Or even advising you on the right financial strategy or workout times based on your spending logs and work calendar.

The companies offering these services are a mix of leading startups, big tech companies, and new players.

For example, Phil Libin created Evernote to help you remember everything easily after he grew frustrated at fiddling with files to organize information from work and home. Now Evernote has 45 million accounts and a new deal to serve Telefonica’s wireless customers worldwide. When you enter new notes, Evernote suggests related notes from your notebooks and those of coworkers you’re linked to.

Drew Houston started Dropbox to give you access to computer files everywhere — motivated by his experience of needing files from his other computer. As of July, Dropbox had 170 million accounts – 70 million more than just 8 months ago! Dropbox aims to be your file system on any gadget, so you can easily find, share, and save files no matter what browser or device you’re using.

Manilla, Doxo, and Volly are variations on the idea of helping you organize and manage your bills and statements on one central website for free. Your providers get more people using digital services instead of paper, plus the chance to offer you better services based on your usage and needs by analyzing your actual financial records.

Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, and Google Drive/Docs all aim to organize and store your key digital information online. Having all that stuff online makes new assistance and advice possible. Google Now, Cueup, and Otixo each offer to analyze your email, schedule, contacts, social networks, and other information in order to offer suggestions for managing your schedule, finding new contacts, and being better informed.

Based on our research, we expect the battle to serve our digital self to unfold over the next six years. Competitors big and little are jockeying for position, but none of them have a big head start. Individuals will come to be defined as much by where they store their digital selves as what their nationality is. The big American Internet companies, major telcos, retailers, and financial companies, and even some governments will compete to be the digital butler for the web of services that make up your digital self. Who you choose will define you. Will you become a Google, a BT, a Carrefour, or a Baidu? Your choices will remake the power dynamics of the online world.

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