“Do as I say, not as I do.” We’ve all heard it said, probably more than once. One potential source is a parent, tired of explaining why some rule or requirement applied to us but not to them. Or maybe it was your boss at work, emphasizing the fact that their rank and position has entitlements not available to you. Or maybe it was even an old friend or acquaintance, seeking to impart some sage and hard-won advice by emphasizing that you should not repeat their mistakes. While the source is unknown and likely apocryphal, the saying first appeared in print in John Selden’s Table-Talk (c. 1654): “Preachers say, ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’” As a scholar of both history and the law, John Selden would no doubt find it of interest that the interconnectedness of the digital age may finally lay waste to the hypocrisy of “Do as I say, not as I do.”
We all seek to cultivate and maintain a public profile or persona that reflects positively on us, and casts us in the best possible light. Yet there is almost always a gap between words and actual behavior – just ask anyone who has tried out an online dating service. What we say and what we do are often not just quantitatively but qualitatively different. Vendors and merchants, as well as service providers, are all concentrated on understanding your demographics and intent, with the objective of quickly and painlessly maximizing their share of your wallet by delivering the goods and services you say you want. Refining those statistical models, and keeping them fed with data from increasingly intrusive sources, has helped give rise to the phenomenon of Big Data and has spawned what is becoming known as the “Intention Economy.” But is taking and dissecting in ever-greater resolution what we say about ourselves on Facebook or LinkedIn, or perhaps what we post to some online data service, really the answer? And while we’re considering it, what was the question again?
To be honest, I’m still not sure what the question is. But I expect the answer lies in our behaviors and not in our proclaimed intentions or in the profiles we cultivate. As Mark Twain reportedly said, “Actions speak louder than words, but not nearly as often.” With today’s connected technology the electronic footprints of our behaviors, often referred to as our “digital exhaust” or “data breadcrumbs”, paint an increasingly detailed picture of where we’ve been, what we did, what or whom we interacted with, and what it cost us. That action data footprint, which as Mark Twain points out is a stronger indicator than simple words of intent, is now captured with far greater frequency and depth than Mr. Twain might ever have imagined. In the words of Carl Gustav Yung, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.”
The power – and the value – of that data is best described in a recent conversation with Alex (Sandy) Pentland, of MIT. If you made it here to this blog please take the time to click through and either listen to his conversation on video or read the transcript. It’s easily one of the most powerful conversations I’ve listened in on in a long time. And it points out the tremendous insights that behavioral data can yield – not just for economic and commercial purposes, but for addressing societal needs as well.
Sandy does a great job of underscoring the opportunity for “evil” as well as for good, and the critical need for serious privacy safeguards while unlocking the value currently stashed away in corporate and industry data silos. While present Big Data analysis focuses on aggregate norms, fully 50% or more of the intrinsic value lies in the details and the hidden patterns that will emerge once this rich behavior-based data is made available. Individual data points, and small data clusters, become substantially more important – and valuable – than when taken as part of an aggregated norm. New types of correlation across previously disjoint data sets, and new techniques in data analysis and visualization, will result in entirely new observations and opportunities.
We at DataBanker share in the same vision as Sandy Pentland. We recognize not only the tremendous value, but also the tremendous societal need to unlock this type of behavioral data. At the same time, we recognize that this new data frontier calls for new economic models, where the individual’s ownership and privacy rights are respected and where fair compensation in the form of real economic benefit for access to and use of an individual’s Data Assets is an essential component. The DataBanker Marketplace – a board of trade and exchange where individuals can manage the resolution and release of their data, and trade off privacy exposure for direct monetary return – is the first such example of a monetization engine that empowers and incorporates the individual’s rights and compensation, while allowing corporate partners and industry trade groups or consortiums to fully recognize the value of their data silos.