I've spent a lot of time these past few months considering the changing role of data in our everyday lives. Never before have we been such consumers of data, nor have we been the subjects of so much data collection. Every time you pick up your iPhone or Blackberry, log onto Facebook, or email a friend a link to an interesting New York Times story or Sierra Club fundraiser, you're both using and sharing information with the world. As a result, the line between data generation and consumption continues to get blurrier, and with that, the very definition of "user/customer intelligence" is changing.
Much of my research, of course, has been focused on how marketers can make better use of data to tailor and target messaging more effectively. But I'm also fascinated by emerging uses of data to improve lives and infrastructure. As a result, not all of the examples I'm sharing are directly related to marketing -- yet. But each of the groups or people who follow are redefining our experiences with data, and its relevance to the world around us.
I was lucky enough to attend the CityCentered Symposium in San Francisco last month, where I heard Assef Biderman, the Lab's Associate Director, talk about four of their recent projects. Their Copenhagen Wheel project uses collected data about the rider plus real-time traffic and weather data to dramatically improve the experience of city bike-riding. Brilliant, right? But get this: as you ride, your data is continuously improving the entire community's experience, too.
Another project I find fascinating is Trash|Track. We all know how wasteful consumerism in America is, and it's no secret that we generate more trash than we have room for. Imagine, though, if you could actually track the progress of a piece of garbage that YOUR household generated during its "deathcycle." This MIT project tags ordinary pieces of trash with a small device using CellID triangulation. Participants in the project are able to see how very far some waste travels, and how long it takes to get where it's going. Now, consider whether you might be more likely to support a business who uses data like this to improve its sustainability scores, whether that means reducing packaging or implementing a recycling program for its last-generation products.
I heard Mike's talk, Information is a Material, at a recent Dorkbot-SF event, and walked away reeling. His ability to distill, in layman's terms, the relationship between people, things, computing, data and design was eye-opening, and left me thinking about how products can be re-engineered to function better and more intuitively using data.
Consider the sensors (or "actuators") we interact with everyday: buttons, levers, knobs... whatever. Simply put, they perform a function based on what we do to them. Imagine if those sensors could use historical data to "sense" and act without needing physical contact. Autistic patients who have touch-based sensory disorders could interact with objects that would otherwise be torturous for them to use. Stroke patients, too, could use objects that might otherwise require fine motor skills they've lost.
The the other point Mike talks about, which ties in nicely with the Copenhagen Wheel, is the idea of "M2M", or Machine-to-Machine Communication. An internet of "things," if you will. What if my Garmin running watch, iPhone and running shoes could all communicate bidirectionally? They might be able to identify an especially rough stretch of road ahead, then adjust shock absorption and arch support and play one of my favorite "push through it" songs. How much might I improve my race time while reducing the risk of injury?
The impacts of applying intelligent data to product design are endless.
Mike's personal site is Orange Cone, and the full transcript of his talk can be found there.
Accenture Technology Labs
I first became familiar with the Accenture Tech Lab via one of its head researchers, Rayid Ghani. At the KDD conference in 2008, he presented a keynote titled "Making Targeted Advertising Advertiser-Friendly." Commerce-specific to be sure, but the focus on mining data intelligently got me thinking about how else we can use data that often seem too granular to be meaningful.
More recently, the Labs' researchers have published a number of articles that speak to the very issues I'm fascinated by: Listening Platforms and how to use the information they provide; Devices-as-Doorway and the way smartphones are changing the very nature of the data we gather and deliver; and Data as a Strategic Asset, a look at changing the paradigm within organizations who've never before used collected data as a primary source of enterprise-wide decision-making information.
Data Visualization Junkies. All of them.
With data comes access. And with access comes development. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of artists, analysts, programmers and developers who are reinventing data visualization. These talented individuals have created a beautiful intersection of art and information. Here are a few of my favorite visualizations:
- Doug McCune: If San Francisco Crime Were Elevation
- Forbes.com: Where Americans Are Moving
- Andy Lintner: If It Was My Home - Visualization of the size of the BP oil spill
- Stamen: Crimespotting - More relevant and impactful than our civic websites!
- Akamai: Real-Time Web Monitor
- Bestiario: Videosphere - TEDTalks visualized based on semantic compatability
Why do I care so much about data viz? Because wrapping your brain around a massive volume of data can be challenging, to say the least. Data visualizations allow us to "see" the concepts and patterns behind the data more efficiently, making it easier to ask the deeper questions we might not otherwise reach. "Forest for the trees" and all that...
Ultimately, all of these teams and individuals are harnessing the very real power of information in ways previously unimaginable. As marketers start to look to the future use of these ideas, it will be incumbent on us to use innovation and datasets responsibly and intelligently. In so doing, we will gain loyalty and credibility with our customers and users, and limit the waste of resources.