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Data: Information VS Insights

[Information is made up of different strands of data. Knowledge is made up of different strands of information].

Jesse Learmonth pointed me in the direction of a great article in the Economist titled: Data, Data Everywhere. Data’s been on my mind a lot lately and this article did a great job of articulating the increasing role it plays in our everyday lives. (note: the magazine version of the article is better & way more in depth than this web summary, but the web summary gives a good synopsis).

We’ve gone from recording information in ledgers and on paper to spreadsheets, digital files and bar codes recording everything- many times automatically, without human intervention. At a personal level, there are monitors tracking our hearts, jogging routes, and blood sugar. The article points to the latest at CERN where the Hadron Collider collects 40 terabytes of data per second. Where possible, all this data is being logged on hard drives around the world. A digital data no-man’s-land of 1’s and 0’s that gives the human brain a headache just trying to comprehend.

data overload

The picture above shows a forecast of the amount of data being produced in exabytes and the available storage we have to capture this data. In case you were wondering how much an exabyte is, I’ve pasted the chart below to give you an idea in relation to quantities we’re more used to in 2010: the megabyte (MB) / gigabyte (GB). I love that the chart includes the yottabyte claiming that it exists, but it’s just too big for the human mind to imagine- it points the human spirit and our faith in innovation. Don’t worry, we’ll get there…

So here we are, midway through 2010 and seas of data are swirling around us (quite literally, think routers cellphone towers, etc.). As an entrepreneurially inclined person, I’m pondering how to extend my hand out and skim these 1s and 0s, sift through the silt, and produce gold nuggets that are useful for people. The world contains vast amounts of data, and the charts above only point to it growing ever more exponentially. As this information explosion continues to happen, the opportunities to successfully harness the correct information and create meaningful insight beg to be unleashed. Spot new business trends, track diseases and prevent outbreaks, analyze crime, overlay stock market data with retail point of sale systems… everything becomes a Guassian Function.

As an entrepreneur, I like to try and look at macro trends and check out what the big boys are doing to see if there’s an emerging market opportunity validated by the millions in pre-emptive spending and investments made by larger companies. With data, there sure is:

  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • Cisco
  • IBM
  • Amazon
  • Among many other examples…

    The trick, of course, is: picking a niche, securing a source of data, and separating the insight from the information. In today’s world of Twitter, RSS, Internet News, Current TV, etc., information is a commodity. While there is a business model for simply charging to access data, I think the far more lucrative model will be in providing insight on top of that data.

    The path to charging for access to information is not in simply spewing it out to consumers; it’s in creating interesting insight and interactions with the data and allowing them to manipulate it in ways that are useful for their needs. It’s in taking that information overload headache away and producing relevant insight that people are looking for. That’s the success behind Google’s search engine. The Internet would suck if you had to manually sift through billions of web pages to find what you’re looking for. Google’s the killer app that uses proprietary algorithms to provide insight on which page it thinks you’d be most interested in based on your search query.

    My company, Bet Smart Media, is utilizing this model as we create our flagship product, WagerTrax. We’re taking tons of data in from all sporting matches in the top North American sports leagues, real time odds data from government-run and offshore sports books and creating insights that we think our users will find interesting.

    I have to say, this is a pretty fun time to be alive and to be an Internet Entrepreneur. If you have a quality team and a quality idea, the costs of launching new Internet startups are at all time lows. The business opportunities of harnessing data in meaningful ways alone could occupy an entrepreneur’s career for life. It’s all about the insight.

  • Make Me Look Good

    The capabilities of software and computing power these days is, well, immense. What does it take to make things simple for users (cutting out 90% of the features that only 10% of the “power users” need) or to observe their most common mistakes and create elegant error handling to catch mistakes for them?

    I use GMail as both my primary personal email client and via Google Apps for all of Bet Smart Media’s email. I’m generally impressed with most of Google’s offerings (calendar aside- a post for another time!). Today was no exception. I finished typing up an email to a colleague and hit “send”. I got this nice notice from Google:

    Attachment Warning

    As it happened, I didn’t actually have an attachment that needed attachin’ for this email, but what a nice feature to have. Name me one person who hasn’t forgot, at least once, to add an attachment to an email going out to a large group of cc’d recipients after referencing it in the text! Why doesn’t all email software include this simple check for such a common mistake?

    Good on ya Google! Sometimes it’s the little things…

    Facebook Social Plugins


    In a move to take over the Internet, Facebook recently launched a series of social plug-in’s that make it super-simple for web publishers to integrate their site content with Facebook. Paraphrasing from a Tech Crunch article:

    Google spends billions of dollars indexing the web for their search engine. Facebook will get the web to index itself, exclusively for Facebook. The entire Internet will be turned into a tributary system for Facebook. And it all flows from a simple “Like” gesture.

    Facebook’s New Social Plugins:

    Like Plugin – This plugin is simple and requires no login. It will show visitors to your site, which of their Facebook friends have engaged with your site recently. If a user likes something on your site with this button it automatically appears in their Facebook profile as well.

    Activity Stream Plugin – This displays a filtered view of the Facebook News Feed containing updates from only your site.

    Facebook Login Plugin – It works like the existing Facebook Connect login button, and it adds photos of your Facebook friends who have already joined the site.

    Social Bar Plugin – A toolbar that is added to the bottom of your site. The Social Bar includes a Like button, friends who like the site, as well as Facebook chat.

    Recommendations Plugin – A plugin that shows recommendations of items or content that visitors to your site may be interested in, based on recommendations from Facebook connections.

    ->Read more about Facebook Social Plugins @ Facebook Developer Blog.

    In addition to these newer features, there’s another Facebook feature I’ve been meaning to blog about for awhile now. It’s a simple link Facebook displays below your albums or pictures called: Share this album with anyone by sending them this public link. Essentially you copy and paste this link into an email or website and, voila!, you have instant photo sharing with people who aren’t on Facebook!

    You can have a look at a recent album I created by clicking on Grant Storry Through The Years. The significance of this new and simple to use feature is that it opens Facebook up to competing with photo specific sites like, Google’s Picasa, photobucket, and shutterfly.

    Yes, Facebook is definitely a company to watch. Several years ago, after Microsoft invested in Facebook giving the company a $15 Billion valuation, I wondered how the one-trick pony would live up to the hype. After all, social networks have come and gone from Friendster to, arguably, Myspace. The direction Facebook is now headed, permeating it’s features throughout the Internet, now gives me some perspective on what Facebook’s endgame vision is. With traffic passing Google this March and shares trading at $17 Billion, Facebook is king of the hill.

    From an online marketing perspective, competition is a good thing. Many online marketing gurus are turning to Facebook to round out their online ad budgets due to the affordability of Facebook ads over Google PPC Adwords. In addition to a cheaper place to advertise to well over 400 million Internet users on Facebook, the new social plugins allow us to engage customers and prospects at a whole new level.

    Take my ridiculous Facebook Album, for example. I created all those photos on a site called by Jostens. Jostens is a class ring and yearbook production company. What a great use of social media & viral marketing by creating a microsite to “Yearbook Yourself”. The site allows you to either upload a pic of yourself or take one using your webcam. You can then edit your photo and fit it into either male or female classic yearbook photos from decades spanning the 60s-2000. You can then save the resulting photos to your computer or connect them directly to your Facebook account with a simple button click.

    All photos are imprinted with a url to Josten’s microsite. Instantly, Jostens has the 400+ million people who are part of the Facebook community promoting their brand and driving traffic to their site in exchange for a goofy picture of themselves. Heck, they even have people like me blogging about it and spreading the word as well. Therein lies the power of social media marketing done right. This could get very interesting over the next several years, provided Facebook doesn’t scare everyone off with privacy concerns

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