[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.

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