Data is new media’s heartbeat

Data is our futureThere is no subject that terrifies traditional media company executives more than the ubergeeky word, “data.” Who knew, they ask themselves when the lights go out, that math and analytics would become the go-to revenue generator for those in the content business? And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening, and efforts to understand the value of user data will be rewarded downstream. Instead of focusing on making media money the old fashioned way, we need to focus on gathering data and figuring out how to use it for profit.

“Data is the plastic of the 21st century,” said Om Malik at the beginning of GigaOM’s Structure Big Data conference in New York City this week. Local media companies are data-generating machines, and yet we use virtually none of it in advancing our business models. We don’t understand it. We think it’s beyond our grasp. And so we abdicate what could be a strong local data position to those better equipped to handle it. This is a shame, because data is the future of media, assuming advertising is the essence of how we make money.

Jeff Jonas, an IBM Distinguished Engineer, told the group Tuesday night that as the number of people connected to the web continues to grow, so too does the vast amount of information about those individuals. When you add geolocation, you create “space-time travel” data, because that data feeds other big data analytics “like a super-food.” With roughly 600 billion data transactions from cellular phones on a daily basis, he told the group, adding space and time to traditional data objects can help predict where someone will be on a given day and time with up to 87 percent accuracy. It’s the stuff of marketers’ dreams.

Why would companies want to add the physics of space-time to their data efforts? More context is needed, Jonas says, because the amount of captured data is rising faster than the creation of algorithms to make sense of the data. That’s creating a gap in the understanding of vast information stores and adding space-time adds much more context. Observations are where the sense-making begins but without context, it’s like trying to build a jigsaw puzzle without the picture of the final product.

This is why data is such a big deal for LOCAL media companies. If Web pureplay companies are able to create space-time commerce applications ahead of us, then any advantage we have in terms of community or proximity vanish. Local data is the most valuable form of data, because it can put merchants in touch with potential customers while they’re in the vicinity of the merchant. This concept should belong to us, not outsiders. We employ local people. We pay taxes. We contribute to the community chest.

I encourage clients to take the time to create databases, because those databases will produce new value for our companies downstream. Whether it’s simply gathering email addresses or defining the local Web, the ability to manipulate data equals the ability to make money in the data-centric world of Media 2.0. We can’t mine data we don’t have, so now is the time to emphasize data gathering in all that we do.

Nobody should understand the people who interact with our content like we do. As SiliconAngle’s John Furrier noted at the Big Data conference, “Data is the heartbeat of cloud, social and mobile,” and that means that if we’re not gathering, mining and monetizing the data associated with our efforts here, we’re only playing games around the edges, and that won’t cut it in the 21st Century.

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