Archive for the 'data is a valuable asset' Category

Selling recommendation data as a business model

Pelago/Whrrl CEO Jeff Holden made some interesting comments in a discussion with Greg Sterling.  First, he talked about the opportunity for recommendations in local search:

He discussed how this might apply to the emerging arena of “footstream” data and recommendations for people and places in the real world on mobile devices. Tracking mobile user behavior yields lots of data about the types of places users go and their real-world behavior. This hypotehtically could deliver local recommendations based on user profiles and corresponding “footstreams.”

Given Jeff’s background from Amazon and the nature of the Whrrl application (which has now been somewhat re-positioned) I always thought this was the ‘end-game’.

But perhaps even more interesting, is the possibility of making money off the acquired data in a more direct way:

Footstream tracking of individuals would have to be personal by necessity (with all the potential privacy questions), but the local recommendations Holden spoke about could be provided anonymously to users who are grouped into certain profiles based on their favorite places and activities in the real world.

He hinted that there might be an emerging business model here for Pelago as a repository and provider of this type of data for other publishers and sites.

I can imagine this raising some interesting privacy discussions, but it seems entirely logical – even inevitable perhaps.  And a tangible indication of the value of collecting such usage data!


Publishers: Your Usage Data is More Valuable than Your Content


Should Canadian governments free our data?

Just watched Tim Berners-Lee speaking about linked data at the TED conference. It’s worth 15 minutes of your time.

The question it leaves me with? Should Canadian governments be making data freely available and easily accessible for anyone who chooses to use it? I’ll give you two examples.


Edmonton has a wonderful consortium that collects and manages all the geo-spatial data for the city.  It’s a world class operation and – somewhat surprisingly given how sensible it is – a very unusual approach.  In most cities there is a tremendous amout of duplicated effort.  So GeoEdmonton is to be congratulated for its accomplishment.

They make this data available to consortium partners and online – in viewable formats.  And I’m sure you can make commercial atrangements to get access to the complete data set.  But they could take it one step forward and make it freely available through a programmatic interface.

You can’t really be-grudge them for wanting to charge for the data – it does have substantial value.  So, the argument for making it freely available is that the resulting innovations will lead to an even greater benefit to society as a whole.

And here’s another example:

Environment Canada makes weather data available in a variety of formats.  But, if I wanted to use this data in a broad and sophisitcated way I’d have to enter in to some sort of licensing arrangement with them.  Why not just provide an interfaces that lets people use what they want when they want it?  That would unleash true innovation.

There is of course, a reasonable argument that charging people to use the data on a ‘pay per use’ basis is fair game.  Since many of these users will themselves realize significant commercial benefit from using the data.  But the barriers required to negotiate and pay for such data stifles innovation.  Set it free and society will reap the greater rewards of this innovation.

Apple AppStore

Want proof?  Look at the iPhone.  Or more accurately, look at the AppStore.

Prior to the iPhone, wireless carriers exercised stringent controls on who was able to deploy applications to mobile devices.  It wasn’t impossible, but it was sufficiently difficult that only those with sufficient perserverence or financial resources persisted.  As a result, there were few applications and limited adoption by users.

Now?  There are more than 25,000 applications in the iPhone store and more than 1 billion applications have been downloaded.  Why?  Because a person in a garage can easily develop and deploy an application.

Freeing data will allow for similar innovation.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts on the subject.


Two great reasons for local publishers to value usage data

Two more arguments in favour of local publishers paying attention to the capture and utilization of traffic data:

  1. Google is taking disruptive action to gather more usage information.
  2. Publishers can utilize usage data to take control of their advertising destiny.

I’m really just providing a local interpretation for two great blog posts from Jonathon Mendez – a push and a pull.  Part of my ongoing effort to highlight the importance of usage information to local publishers.

(And by my definition, usage includes both clicks and calls generated from print, online and mobile sources.)

The PUSH: Google Wants a Deeper View of Usage

Mendez reports that Google is running some experiments where they are stripping the referring URL when passing traffic to sites.  I assume they are doing this to encourage sites to use Google Analytics instead.  Why would they do this?  Because they get a much deeper (and more accurate) view of the compete user transaction when they able to track (through Google Analytics) what happens to the transaction on the destination website.

So Google is taking what seems like fairly dramatic action to get access to more usage data.  Local publishers take note.

The PULL: Publishers Can Control Their Advertising Destiny

Mendez followed his post on Google with Transcendence: The Power of Publishing is Marketing.  For local publishers, I’d summarize this as follows: by analyzing the historical usage of your content you can improve the performance of advertising on your site.  This increases your value proposition to advertisers and puts you in control of your own destiny.

Who owns my click stream?

The data we leave behind when using online and mobile services has great value because it can be analyzed to create a comprehensive profile about me.  Such a profile that can be used to give me recommendations — and target relevant advertising to me.  The prospects are both exciting and potentially alarming.

But I wonder — is the collective log of my activities really MY data and should I have more control over what (if anything) is done with it?

What Them Know About Me

Search engines track my searches. Phone companies track my phone calls. Google track my emails. Apple tracks my music listening and purchases. Amazon tracks my book purchases. Linked In knows where I’ve worked, who I’ve worked with and who I know.

Taken together – these crumbs and the crumbs I leave behind in many other places – provide a remarkably comprehensive picture of who I am and what I am doing.

What They Do With It

Their Terms of Service make it clear they own this usage data, but they’ll protect it and not abuse it. And in some cases, they even given me some control over it.

And in general, the convention is that they can use it to serve me better – Amazon recommends books to me and Apple recommends music to me.

And they can use it to deliver advertising to me.  So, Google uses what it ‘reads’ in my email to present me with advertising – sometimes to humorous effect.

But, I don’t think I’ve given them permission to use what they’ve learned about me in one place to serve me somewhere else.  Having said that, there are important and notable exceptions to this: cookies dropped all over the place by advertising platforms being one culprit.  And we don’t really know how much sharing their is among services who have the same corporate owner.

But What’s Possible?

There is a lot more that COULD be done if all my data was consolidated in to a single comprehensive picture.  But, I don’t think people are ready for this.  My conversations with friends ‘outside’ the business, suggest that most people are oblivious to how much data is already being collected.  They are alarmed when I tell them.

So, no, I don’t really want my data being shared and consolidated in some willy-nilly fashion.  Nor do I want these decisions being made behind the closed doors of corporate giants on the basis of services they own or agreements they’ve struck with others.

Instead, I’d like to see this dealt with in a transparent way.

Personally, I think it’s my click-stream.  So, I’d like to have access to it and control over how it gets used.  I WANT to be able to authorize trusted services to use it in specific ways.

We’re headed in to interesting times.

Google wants to know everything you do

In a recent post, Perry Evans comments on Google’s new Profile feature:

As quoted in RWW, Google’s Joe Kraus responsed on this bigger picture issue, attempting to dispel the notion of a bigger agenda.

“Google doesn’t do a lot of forward looking things; we serve our users’ needs and then we iterate.”

Gimme a break, Joe, this kind of BS really backfires. Own up to the treasure trove you’re building, and be transparent about how you intend to use it. Anything less just adds to the growing pile of reasons for consumers to begin fearing the brand as an opaque, too-powerful monolith.

In fact, just about everything Google does can be seen in terms of how it allows them to learn more about you – to serve you better – and earn more from the advertising you click on when using their services!

Some people seemed to think Google Voice – their evolution of Grand Central’s personal number service – is somehow a bit of a strange departure for Google. In fact, it’s a great way for them to get inside another valuable data stream about you – the people you talk to on your telephone. Android is another way of getting at this data stream (among others of course).

Mobile carriers, who already have the data Google wants, aren’t doing anything with it. Yet, to Google it is so valuable they were willing to buy a company, completely re-write its software and then give it away for free. Just to get access to this data stream.

Publisher strategy: your usage logs are more valuable than your content

As local information publishers – whether you are a dedicated review site, an online map provider, a yellow page directory, a directory assistance provider, a newspaper or a local search engine – you have a valuable asset in your content.  Users visit your site to find and access it.

But the information they can collect about how user’s interact with your content will be even more valuable.

First of all, the content itself is being rapidly commoditized.  Information wants to be free – and so it will be.  So over time users will migrate to the sites that do the best job of helping them find the information they actually want and need.  There are many factors that will influence this – including the quantity and quality of data and the quality of the user interface.  But utilizing knowledge about how users interact with the information – and being able to take in to account their needs and situation by analyzing this information – will be a key differentiator.  And whoever has the most users will get the most usage data.  And with more data they will be able to do a better job of serving their users.  It’s a virtuous circle.

And secondly, since this content is usually monetized with advertsing the ability to utilize this usage data to improve the relevance and performance of your advertising will be critical.  Perhaps the single most critical skill a publisher can have.

What it means: If you’re a publisher, make sure you maintain a healthy stream of your own traffic – and please, please, please make sure you’re tracking and recording all that valuable information.  And then, learn how to analyze and exploit it to improve the consumer experience and the advertising performance.

And think about this – if you’re syndicating your data how about negotiating for getting back the information on how it’s used?  The reaction of your syndication partner to this request might give you a pretty good indication on how valuable THEY think this data is.

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