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On December 14-16, 2011, the Fundación de la Innovación Bankinter held the XVII Future Trends Forum in Madrid. The distinguished conference brought together some 50 participants across industries who were eager to understand the relevance of social technologies to their companies. The Social Data Lab and First Retail Inc. were invited to participate as thought leaders for this meeting.
In this foreword to the proceedings, we revisit and consolidate the most exciting ideas that emerged during the three days. We frame our observations by casting our minds back 8 years ago to the year of 2004. At that time, Andreas was in Seattle, working with Jeff Bezos as Chief Scientist of Amazon.com. Gam was Head of Data Strategy at Aviva Insurance in the United Kingdom, working on a federated infrastructure for a holistic view of the customer. Anthony was going through the rigors of the Singapore education system, his concerns rarely beyond the trivialities of dating and datelines. For most of us, February and the founding of Facebook came and left quietly. And yet, it was an event that will change the world forever. Looking back, this presents itself as a fitting launchpad for us to review the emergence and growth of social data to date. From there, we then project 8 years hence to 2020, delivering insights on the impact of social data and technologies going forward.
The power of social data is in making the implicit explicit. This was the incisive insight that Joshua Schachter, the founder of Delicious, a social web service for the storing and sharing of web bookmarks, had about data. For centuries, the fabric that bound our communities lay obscured from us. Through our credit cards, Facebook, twitter, restaurant reservations, mobile phone and a host of other mediums, we have actively contributed in creating an external representation of ourselves. Details of your raunchy personal life can now be inferred from the sneaky search you made on Google, the accidental slander you made on that online forum or that long forgotten purchase you made on Amazon. Put together, these data have gone into constructing a persona that is arguably an enhancement of you.
Yet for all that it is worth, the potential of social data was not realized until recently. The thirst for information has always been in tension with a desire to withhold information, with the tragedy of asymmetric information as a result. We are now in the position to right this wrong. Enter BranchOut is a Facebook application that is targeting this problem, beginning by improving the recruitment process. In an increasingly crowded space, BranchOut was the first to recognize that the information embedded into the social identity of an individual is much higher than what can be learned from a resume or interview. Details about a person’s location, education, work history, friends and behaviors inform the smart algorithms at BranchOut to match jobs that really matter to the individual, and individuals that matter to the company. It is no wonder that here are now over 10 million active users on the site, relishing the new freedom in information access for both the recruiter and job seeker alike.
The list of social technologies goes on, but what we are observing is a radical shift in the scale of information flow in and between the communities that we reside in. This was simply unimaginable in as short as eight years ago. In 2004, online strategy teams in recognition of the value of a read-write web were advocating a framework of three C’s: Content, Community and Commerce. These three words define concepts that were championed by the three dominant companies of the period: Content via Google, Community via Facebook and Commerce via Amazon. Together they created the new online eco-system for businesses and individuals back then.
Google’s dominance in content retrieval was based on a strategy to redefine where units of knowledge can be easily found and shared. Over the period, Google has spawned and acquired a host of additional knowledge based services (Maps, Gmail, Android, Wallet, Google+, all the way to the concept of Self-driving cars) that are designed to index and make the world’s knowledge available anywhere via any device to anyone. On whatever scale you care to measure, be it culture, company or country, Google is accumulating content both vast and detailed.
Facebook is the Social Network, with a billion users spending 20% of all their Internet time in the application. It has reached the extent where it is not simply recording real world events, but it becomes the medium through which real world interactions take place. This in itself is a colossal paradigm shift – where the boundaries between online and offline start to blur. Facebook’s revelation of the possibilities of a trusted online identity is a profound one. With it, connections that are genuine and uncontrived were generated, forming communities that facilitated conversations and co-creation. This has fueled the rapid construction of an ecosystem of whole new industries of applications ranging from games to utilities, supporting and pushing the boundaries of connectivity.
At the forefront of commerce is Amazon, a company that conquered each and every retail category it moved into. Beyond that, it also reinvented other industries along the way with Amazon Web Services, Mechanical Turk, Marketplace and the Kindle. Its reach is beyond imagination – it is a store that welcomes 50 million active customers spanning almost half the globe. In a short time, it became the de facto purchase content provider regardless of intent. Fundamentally, Amazon has changed the way people discover and purchase products, and the commerce industry at large.
This eco-system generated by the trio of C’s of the early century has not remained static. In recent years, we began to observe whole new developments in technical infrastructure for Cloud Computing, Software as a Service and a distribution system for mobile applications. Drawing from Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0, this phenomenon represented a radical change in the online engagement model for leading-edge organizations from ‘publishing’ to ‘participation’.
As such, despite being once considered as the Holy Grail of online strategy, the three C’s are now finding themselves supplanted with new ideas. From a close examination of the most recent trends, we can add three further C’s: Context, Connection and Conversation. Deeply rooted in Social Data, these concepts are now defining the latest business models and the evidence is mounting towards their success.
Take a ride on public transport or sit in a restaurant anywhere in the world and we see that people are almost permanently connected to each other via online services, perhaps to the extent that removing these devices now results in a psychological withdrawal. Mobile services have proliferated, enabling individuals to willingly register everything they do at the point in time and the place that they do it creating millions of check-ins, photo posts and likes logged each second. This activity is creating a rich physical context for each online data instance. This allows both explicit and implicit Social Technology services to be launched to make life more convenient. Explicitly, real time location aware services such as GoGuide and Highlig.ht allow people to find members of their social network in the real world. Implicitly, where credit card companies are able to match a check-in with a payment transaction providing further authentication of a transaction.
People are now connecting with each other on a global scale - socially, professionally and implicitly via a plethora of networks and with a flexibility of purpose, longevity and significance. As a society, we have learned much over the last eight years as to the authenticity of these connections, yet systematically, we operate in naiive ways allowing malevolent behaviors to take place. Social Technologies will play a part in identity management and authentication, where the data trail a person leaves behind provides a stronger means of verification than more traditional forms available today.
The Cluetrain Manifesto published in 1999 began with ‘These Markets are Conversations’. It demanded that businesses needed to pay closer attention to the voices of their customers that are broadcasted loud and clear via the Internet. This notion of customer feedback spawned Ebay Seller Ratings, Bazaar Voice reviews and ratings and OpinionLabs harvesting feedback directly versus traditional market research techniques. Now in 2012 we are seeing Conversations becoming Markets: services such as Facebook Marketplace, Twitter and Zaarly begin with the conversation and then allow participants to be matched based on deeper levels of individual preference, identity and network data.
With that, we enter into a new evolutionary period with an interplay of not 3, but 6 C’s: Content, Community, Commerce, Conversation, Context and Connections that will drive and propel us forward.
This new framework has not only encapsulated new online behavioral models, it has rendered a whole new set of technological possibilities. From this, we envision the emergence of a set of enabling technologies in sensors, identity services and marketspaces, fueled respectively by the new paradigms of Context, Connections and Conversations.
Sensors placed on objects, in venues and at locations will become the eyes and ears of the Web – allowing individuals to provide context to their mobile data and for context to be provided back to them. A sensor placed in a physical store will enable a passive check-in registering customer visits – however, once checked-in, the store will now recognized the consumer as a loyal customer or a new customer and be able to differentiate the experience. Sensors will allow people to passively create more data about themselves and to gain convenience in the process.
New ways of authenticating identity through association of individuals with their data will supplement or even replace today’s physical checks. An identity system based on the analysis of Social Data may be more difficult to compromise that a centralized reputation service. This pillar built out of the conversations and interactions will be necessary for the trust network to occur that will enable a data driven economy.
As individuals express themselves online revealing more and more of their opinions, desires and vices, the social data web becomes a noisy party where individuals are busy seeking each other out to share common interests and objectives. As they connect they will interact and work out how to transact for mutual benefit, effectively turning conversations into markets. Services that facilitate these connections will evolve: today an individual is able to state their needs to a vendor who has a published inventory. In the future a vendor offering a product or service will state the need for a customer and a system will find customers from an inventory of needs. Marketspaces will become truly bi-directional and will evolve to make valuable conversations even more productive.
From the sublime to the ridiculous, from the predictions to the present. The reality is that we acknowledge that predictions are ultimately very difficult, especially if they are about the future, as famously claimed by the renowned physicist, Niels Bohr. Thus, beyond mere prediction, we would like to instead prepare the individual for what is to come. To do that, the individual must first embrace the notion that the Social Data Revolution is upon us and is here to stay, and that the tendrils of social technologies will percolate through every industry known to us.
It is in our view that there is no better preparation for the future than this book. In here, we really have a collection of new technological innovations, trending ideas and enticing imaginations brought to life by an unprecedented growth of social technologies. But before one goes through this book, we urge you, the esteemed reader to ponder upon the paradigms we now currently hold. Revisit the ingrained worldview of privacy and ownership, which you have held onto so fiercely due to a combination of nostalgic lament and convenient inertia. Then as you begin to flip the pages, we encourage you to do so with a nonchalant disregard for these biases. Allow the advocacy of possibilities governed by the 6 C’s of social technologies to excite you. Most importantly, we invite you to join us in profoundly letting go and embrace the spacious possibilities of the future.
----This article also appeared in the Spanish language El Pais newspaper Las seis 'ces' de las tecnologías sociales on May 18th, 2012
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