Taylor Davidson · Context First

The next set of winners in web services will use the organizing principle of “context first” to build on top of social platforms, mobile platforms and data platforms to rethink how their business operates.
by Taylor Davidson · 23 Apr 2012

When I hear people say “mobile will be huge” I cringe: mobile is already huge, and has been huge around the world for many years. To say “mobile” will be big is a useless generalization, because “mobile” means so many different things. But moreso, mobile isn’t a product feature: it’s an organizing principle.

What’s the difference? Take “social”. Paul Adams, Stop talking about social:

“… the rise of the social web is a structural change being driven by online life catching up with offline life. The winners in this world will be the ones who assume social behaviour in everything they do. It won’t be the ones thinking about social as a feature or product in isolation. The winners will be existing businesses who build on top of social platforms to rethink how their business operates.”

In a similar vein, the winners in mobile will be those who are able to build on top of mobile platforms to rethink how their business operates. And that’s happening as we speak. The smartest companies on the web are unlearning what they did for the “big web” and relearning how to recreate their businesses around the “small web”. They’re learning how to use smarter devices, smarter networks, smarter sensors, smarter systems of contextual data to build smarter companies. They’re learning how to use context.

Chris Dixon:

… the really massive opportunity is dreaming up new ways that the little computers loaded with sensors that we carry around with us everywhere can improve our real-world experiences.

The key to this (and to the sentiment echoed by Saar) is to focus less on the device and more on the individuals using the device.

And how does that work? It all starts by using personal, contextual data to create unique experiences for individual people. As Saar points out,

“Smart” means understanding a user and understanding their physical and mental state. Smart services will process user information in the background to make accurate predictions around real-time user intention and will offer suggestions, results and different user interfaces/interactions based on their prediction of state.

A couple weeks ago at the launch of WIM I asked Veronika a question about how she saw the “big web” and “small web” evolving and if she saw the distinction between the two breaking down. Her answer, about how she didn’t see the distinction between them in that vein because she saw “the web” as different experiences best facilitated by each device, led me to respond that it “wasn’t about mobile first, but context first”.

And it all starts with data: personal, user-centric, contextual intent data. Of course, that isn’t easy or cheap; we haven’t seen many truly great applications leveraging contextual data yet because context is incredibly expensive to get right: hard to learn, hard to create, hard to action. But that’s the opportunity.

Organizing principles work as calls to action, as frames of reference, of sources of inspiration. The organizing principle of “mobile first, web second” has inspired a wave of mobile applications; but “context first” is the type of organizing principle that will lead to truly disruptive web services.

People first. User first. Context first.