Big Data: The Promise, The Responsibility, and Human Creativity Along the Way

Famous Black Sand Beach at Kaimu Created By Lava RunoffConsumer data on the social Web is spewing out like a volcano.  It’s hot…so hot we have a new term called “big data.” The promises of big data are akin to idyllic black sand beaches in Hawaii.  They will inform us of consumer behavior, deliver perfect algorithms that maximize engagement, give us the path forward to improve net promoter scores, as well as bigger revenues/margin.  It is beautiful and full of promise.

The availability of, and access to, this rich information/ data is, however, premised on trust.  The technical safeguards may be sound; and the defense that you agreed to the terms of service related to privacy may be legal.  But the “surprise” at what that actually means or how we actually use the data or the unintended “leaks” bring to the forefront a severe disruption of social expectations that had been underpinned by trust.  Using this data in unexpected ways can put trust at risk, or even destroy it.  One might simply cite PRISM as an example.  There are others.

How people view the limits between private and public data is a new and uncharted territory.  One we are inevitably working our way through case by case and day by day.   Mitch Joel in CTRL ALT DELETE talks about getting in front of the privacy issue by talking about benefits.  That’s half right.  Responsibilities for transparency and openness about how we use data must also be a part of the benefits argument.  A surprise benefit, for example, can still be a disruption to social expectations.

In business, we need to step up and own responsibility, transparency and openness related to consumer data and what we do with it, unless we want to have regulations determine those matters for us. It’s a slippery slope once the regulatory Pandora’s box is opened — then the constraints may know no end.

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble have a new book coming out which is about data around us being put into a workable context to make our lives better.  They too will have something to say about privacy and data.  I cant wait to see where they land because it is an important issue.  Last week I saw Shel post that the section on privacy was the hardest chapter to write so far.  I know Scoble often talk abouts the “freaky” aspect of all of this.

We look at five converging technology forces: mobile, social media, data, sensors, and location. As we see it, they are creating a huge contextual superforce in which technology becomes far more personal and capable of predicting what we want even before we ask. The book has more than 100 examples, even though we are only at the dawn of this new age.”

Sensors, big data, contextually improved lives…as business people, we must always be mindful that “big data” for benefits equates with trust given to us.  We still have work to do on stepping up and building that trust to ensure regulations do not control how far the promise of “big data” can be pursued.  We all have a stake in freedom of data, and that “we” includes Governments, Citizens, Businesses, Customers, Social Networks, Technology Developers, Parents, Children – together we must be transparent honest and responsible as we set precedents and define the future.

As I wrote this post, I got hit by a friend talking on a “related” topic who said, loosely quoted:

“Albert Einstein once said, roughly, that the intuitive mind is a miraculous gift and the rational mind its humble servant.  Unfortunately, we have built a society that elevates the servant and denigrates the miracle.”

Likely an important reminder. For all the business and data of social networks, there is a very real element of humanity.  Curiosity, experimentation, human intuition and connection count too.  If we only stay within the realm of data points, we may fail to innovate in new ways and explore now opportunities outside the boundaries of “what the data tells us” – missing real opportunities to create, grow and really break boundaries.  Like the volcanic black sand beach, there is a scientific explanation for its’ being.  Its’ attraction and beauty has to do with something beyond the “data”.

Do you think your relevance to customers includes “imaginings” that are consistent with your business while reaching beyond just the data? Does it matter?

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