And why this book kicked the discussion on privacy and the future of data into high gear. Is a technological dashboard becoming a sort of "control panel of our lives"? Stephen Baker, a veteran writer of BusinessWeek - we first met when he linked to one of my posts, The Illusionist - delivers the fruit of his research into this emerging (but not new) class of what he calls math intelligentsia - The Numerati.
You probably met Baker on Twitter or maybe at the blog he co-authors for BusinessWeek. Now you can also find him on the book blog. If you thought this was the age of conversation, you might want to take a look at Baker's book. He makes a very compelling case for how math can potentially rock your world.
It already has. See the case study/excerpt from the book on how IBM is building mathematical models of its own employees to improve productivity and automate management. Will workers become commoditized?
The other question this move begs is, will the construction of predictive models prevent personal growth and change? In other words, if managers have more information about what a person is currently doing, part of which may be driven by what *they* assign and not what the potential is, will workers get stuck even more in a fixed role?
The interpretation of all our data may be able to help us predict where we should work and with whom, how we vote, if we will have a medical problem, or who we should date and marry. But will it make us happier? Has Web 2.0 made you happier? Data may mean noise to the uninitiated, but to mathematicians and analysts it can be a window into predicting our future behavior.
Yet, a lot of the data companies have about us is underutilized or not utilized at all to our benefit. Did Benetton realize that I made most of my clothing purchases at their stores? It's a bad example, as they are a franchise and are not set up to have an online business. Otherwise, they could have set up a site for people like me when they decided to pull out of the Philadelphia market with physical stores.
While having the tools to predict customers' future behavior is a valuable proposition for businesses, there is a fine line between market intelligence and customer privacy. Marketers are gaining more access into our online preferences and using them for behavioral targeting.
Most behavioral targeting today is conducted by ad networks. As Internet Service Providers (ISPs) enter the game, the reach of what it tracked and where broadens - and so do privacy concerns. Openness and honesty are a must to navigate the delicate balance.
The Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web just turned one and many issues are still very much in the gray. There are some who contend that privacy is a generational issue. It may be. Still, it is a serious consideration.
To me there is a lot more to large quantities of data to learn about people. Certainly technology is allowing us to automate pieces of information we might not otherwise remember and now to collect more of the breadcrumbs we leave - online and off line.
Does putting your picture on LinkedIn increase the likelihood that someone will find you and potentially use that information to bad ends? If you registered a business in your state, they are already selling your listing - and there are few roadblocks to anyone obtaining your home address if you own a house.
I'm with Baker as he concludes his very compelling book. Having data is one step. We still rely on sociology, psychology and all of the humanistic disciplines to find the keys to what that data means.
It is much more than just managing your brand, isn't it? It's about how the sum total of the information about you is going to be collected and interpreted. It's how that will affect you and your life as worker, shopper, voter, blogger, patient, lover and even potential terrorist. Talk and behavior aggregated. What will they say about you?
A couple of good reviews of the book are at CNet and Portfolio.com. See also my post at Fast Company Expert blog on how micro-targeting can help you make your customers happier.