12 Days of Digital – Day 11: Make data work for you

‘Social Networks are for kids’ How many times have you heard that? Or even thought it? Well here’s the shock news, the average age for a social network user is 37 years old. Fascinating fact aside the link also showcases a recent trend in reporting  – the infographic. Likely through the impact of the Wikileaks’ releases the journalism sector has seized the potential of data for their industry. The Guardian is leading the pack with ‘Internet Journalist of the Year’ Simon Rogers heading up the DataBlog.

With the influence of social sites information has grown a conservatively estimated tenfold in five years. 48 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, (visualised of course by another infographic); Flickr hosts more than 5 billion photographs, 3000 uploaded every minute and Wikipedia has more than 17 million articles. That’s a lot of data before even considering the 4 million tweets posted per hour.

But ‘Information overload’ is nothing new. Futurologist Alvin Toffler first used the phrase in 1970. We’ve had a long time to get used to it so why aren’t we ready for it? A challenge considered by author Clay Shirky, ‘It’s not information overload it’s filter failure’.

If as suggested by Shirky it’s the just the way it is let’s get on with it, what are the potential opportunities for using data in business. How do we get a toe in the new emerging industry with skills we’re going to be hearing a lot more about including data scraping, data mining, data visualisation.

Some are swift to make data and social tools central to their business model, relying on information supplied to offer free services for users. PatientsLikeMe, a data-driven social networking site, enables its community to share and chart their progress in health treatment. The company is transparent in their use of the (anonymous) data collected to fund medical research. PatientsLikeMe was named one of the 15 Companies that Will Change the World by Business 2.0 and CNN Moneyand was number 23 on Fast Companies 2010 list of Most Innovative Companies.

The data industry isn’t just about keeping data behind closed doors. It’s about opening data. The strategy harks back to the idea of open-source software where developer communities have demonstrated many brains are better than one. To quote Simon Rogers speaking at media140 event Dataconomy, ‘Whatever reason you have for releasing your data, someone else will have a better one’.

The UK government is working to ‘open’ data to benefit services and be more cost effective; charities like mySociety.org are giving them a helping hand by crowdsourcing data on sites like www.fixmystreet.com. Open data isn’t just for the public sector it’s for big business too. Speaking at SXSW 2011 Hannah Jones, Nike VP of sustainability announced plans to open data of the sports shoe giant to encourage innovation and rekindle opportunities forgotten.

So the big question is can you make data work for you? First you have to determine which camp you are in. Overload: How too much information is hazardous to your organisation or Information is Beautiful.

Former BBC producer Kate Pickering has worked in broadcast, innovation and digital media for 14 years. She is Director of media140 delivering events and workshops in the UK, mainland Europe and Australia on the transformation of business using social technologies. A collaborative innovation enthusiast and a firm believer the web is for good as well as play Kate is focused on what’s new and what’s next to better business. She has recently become Innovation Programme Leader at Co-operatives UK. Connect with Kate here.