As the 21st century entered its teen years, the term Big Data gained some serious buzz. For those who don’t consider themselves to be very intimate with how the tech industry is growing, the term still seems elusive. And yet, it has become as popular (and as highfalutin) as the term Cloud grew to be over the last 5 years.
With things being available “in the Cloud” it essentially means we have access to what we want anywhere we can get an internet connection. The trendiness of Big Data is not that simple.
We already have a lot of data on everyone who uses the internet to search, shop, play, do business, socialize, etc. Having Big Data implies that we are getting reasonable insights from what our users or customers are doing online and are able to take action on what we know. Having analytics alone, in my opinion, is not Big Data as there’s no service component which allows you to act on what your metrics are telling you.
The end goal for Cloud services was very clear. We did not want to be chained to the office desktop anymore. Using Cloud based applications allowed us to work from anywhere.
The end goal for Big Data, in comparison, is murky at best. The average internet consumer has very little idea about the type or amount of information that’s being collected on him/her and how directly related that information is to his experience online. Murkier still is whether we can discern if this experience is better or worse because we know more about the consumer.
But, the point of all this is not to determine some right or wrong. Murky does not necessarily imply that should the end goal be clear the Big Data movement would somehow be “right”, just as it does not imply that because the end goal is murky data collection is somehow wrong. At present, I think the most conclusive thing we can say is that Big Data “is” and “is developing”. It exists and many would encourage you to find out how it impacts you.
What makes me the most inconclusive on the issue, however, is the people who are using it most widely right now. I would say targeted advertising is the most prevalent way it intrudes our lives and thus the companies using it most are companies we would scarcely call ourselves familiar with, at least in the human way.
I browse a clothing store’s online site. I’ve never been in the store. I’ve never spoken with a representative. I simply saw a friend of mine like their page on Facebook and I checked them out. Right now that company is relying on my friend to have friends with high opinions of her opinion. Nothing wrong with this, but stay with me.
When I visit their website, I put my email address in the pop up to receive 15% off my first purchase. Now I start receiving an email a day from the company for which I’ve had zero human interaction. This would seem crazier if it were my physical mailbox but since it is a virtual one and all I have to do is delete it with 2 clicks, what’s the harm?
When I visit any site with banner ads I’m now also met with models wearing their clothing advertising that deal I have in my inbox. It’s a constant reminder -- is it a good thing or a bad thing? Not sure.
What I do know, however, is that there is very little feeling or emotion involved with it. I see that as a decidedly bad thing, if only by comparison.
The folks that use checkAppointments are--in some way, shape, or form--service providers. They need people to have part of their time. None of the companies that I’m seeing show up on banner ads want to give me any of their time. They just want me to be aware of their brand.
They want information about me in order for me to spend money with them and they don’t want to spend any human time on me in the process. It gives the old phrase that “time is money” a whole new meaning.
I know this seems abstract, but I think it is an important societal hinge that we’re facing. The people we spend money with who really do care, the service providers that we love and tell others about through word of mouth, may never have the omnipresent power that these companies have. And yet, I’d argue with anyone that my more important dollars are spent with them.
The dollars are more importantly spent with them because there is such an emotion in receiving a service directly from the service provider at a time that you’ve chosen and have to look forward to. Obviously because you are face to face with them they have some advantage over online retailers, but that’s also the same reason why the businesses cannot scale in nearly the same manner.
Is it fair? Is it right? Is it the direction we want societies to go? I don’t have the authority to answer these moral compass questions, but I believe they are important to consider.
I think in the politically savvy rhetoric of supporting small businesses, service providers have to be taken into greater consideration. There’s a lot that tech companies can do to support them, but we have to be thoughtful in what that is. And while there may be some overlap, I see the scalability of service providers through the internet having a different method than retailers.