Its my data and I’ll share if I want to

One day I’ll figure out how Dan Farber manages to keep his finger on the pulse of EVERYTHING. Certainly over twenty years of ‘editor in chief’ roles has given the man some insight. A few months back he made a very apt observation about corporations, social networks and controlling data, where’s the money?

There is value in the knowledge, or wisdom if you prefer, derived from data (facts and figures). scientia potentia est. Consequently, there is intrinsic value in data. That’s why our parents forked out hard earned cash for World Book Encylopedias in the 1980’s and still have them on the bookshelf in the hall for all to see! Well, perhaps that just an Irish thing.

I think the social networks phenomenon is driving home the value of tools that produce knowledge from data, particularly when there is so much data and old models for interpreting data no longer work. Staying with Google, when they bought YouTube, did they pay $1.65 Billion USD for the video content, or the tag cloud, data relationships, and viewing history about the content? I propose that as a video portal, YouTube’s value (although I wouldn’t have paid that much for it) was in it’s meta data and how it used it, not it’s content. Although content is not king, having it was critical in building up the meta data (or ‘connectivity’ using Odlyzko terminology).

We are used to getting things for free on the internet. In the social internet we are producers as well as consumers of information. So there is a real challenge in encouraging people to share data, particularly when it is possible, but not always probable, that someone is going to try use that data for their own ends. Yet people, including myself, do it.

Why do people share the things they know, such as code to validate an IBAN or scrumptious zucchini recipes for nothing? It’s because we still hold on to our own experience and knowledge in applying this ‘data’, and the ‘connectivity’ gained when someone discovers it. So, while I could learn to make a Bailey’s Cheesecake I much prefer buy one (well two or three actually, they don’t sell retail) and share.

Let’s wrap up with a classic anecdote/joke from the Toastmasters handbook…

There was an engineer who had an exceptional gift for fixing all things mechanical. After serving his company loyally for over 30 years, he happily retired. Several years later the company contacted him regarding a seemingly impossible problem they were having with one of their multimillion-dollar machines. It shook and vibrated violently every time they started the machine. They had tried everything and everyone else to get the machine to work but to no avail. In desperation, they called on the retired engineer who had solved so many of their problems in the past. The engineer reluctantly took the challenge. He spent a day studying the huge machine. At the end of the day, he marked a small “x” in chalk on a particular spot on the side component of the machine, took a sledge hammer and hit the spot a smashing blow. Instantly, the machine quit vibrating and ran smooth as silk.

The company received a bill for $50,000 from the engineer for his service.

They wrote him a letter saying that $50,000 for hitting the machine was outrageous as any fool could have done that. They demanded an explanation.

The engineer responded with a new bill stating:
One sledge hammer blow to machinery – $1.00
Knowing where to hit machinery – $49,999.00

It was paid in full and the engineer retired again in peace, but in a much bigger house.

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