Big Data

The true meaning of data

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This sponsored post is produced by Dennis R. Mortensen, Founder & CEO of Visual Revenue, Inc.

A simple reality came to light for me this week after completing a blog post of ours on a very specific topic for our customers:  “Minimizing Reader Churn for Non-Subscription New Properties.”  It’s a good read, but it’s only a small part of the greater story of big data, predictive analytics and human interaction.

Data, no matter how big, will never replace us.

Surely, “big data” is driving impact and efficiencies in organizations. Yet many of us have seen the fear in people’s eyes and in their words when they cannot see or relate to that impact. “How does this help?”  “Am I being replaced?”  Like many others, I share the belief that much of this reaction is fed by old-school thinking or misapplied applications that fail to enhance what people do.

That reactionary way of thinking is quickly changing before our eyes.  As we peek into the New Year, we can see more people growing comfortable with active data-driven tools.  And these are not just the data geeks.  Beyond adding a sense of control over people’s jobs and their lives, new tools are injecting more humanity – a greater ability to see, learn, interact and touch others in ways that big data does not and will not.

At Visual Revenue, our focus is on pushing these tools into newsrooms around the world, enhancing the active hand of human editors to shape news into perspective and to build relationships with their audience.  It is, after all, not information, but human emotion – warm and fuzzy or cold and calculated – that motivates return visits and deeper engagement.

Our tools have been well received, but this warmer reception and recognition of big data goes way beyond our highly focused effort on editors. It goes everywhere.

In the budding growth of “personal identity management” tools (as profiled in The New York Times), we see more humans (people, that is) taking individual control of their data. Surely some of it is motivated by fear and security, but competence with your data is the best means to enhance interactions — with people, companies, and institutions.  If data is your vocabulary in the digital world, everyone is becoming articulate and well-spoken.

To optimists like me, this may very well be a tipping point helping us move from the mindset of “surveillance economy” to one of “relationship economy.”  That would be a welcome shift for sure.

Look back at the services that truly stood out during Web 1.0 and 2.0, and you’ll see that they were those that relied on data to enhance — and be enhanced by — humans.  Yahoo, for example, was not originally a search engine, but a hand-picked directory of links from David and Jerry.  Facebook, for all of its technical prowess, is not what people are addicted to; they’re addicted to their friends. (A tip of the hat to Tim Young of Socialcast, from whom I heard this quote five years ago).

In my blog post, I wrote of subscription economics, knee-jerk reactions, and that in digital media, “everyone is a subscriber” at one level or another. As such, they can be lost.

My wish for the New Year is that we all do more with our data than just see what our subscribers are doing. Let’s not just avoid losing them.  Let’s connect with them to drive better understanding.  Let’s build more engaging, personal, and (dare I say) human relationships with our subscribers.

That’s the true meaning of data.  Happy holidays!

Dennis Mortensen is CEO & Founder of Visual Revenue, Inc., whose Front Page Decision Platform helps editors to better place content and provides real-time recommendations and predictive analytics to more than 250 global online publishers, including Comcast, The Atlantic, NBC Universal and Le Monde.  He is the author of Data Driven Insights from Wiley and sits on the Board of the Digital Analytics Association.

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