* This is a guest contribution by Allan Ireland Park, the Chairman of social data comparison site VisibleNation
Over the past decade as the internet established itself as a household utility, as important as electricity and water, we have experienced a number of phenomena, usually described in single words.
‘Dis-intermediation’ was one of the first, mainly used by consultants, When I first heard this term I laughed. But it was a catalyst for the dot.com boom and this euphoric optimism shook up the established vertical market leaders.
When reality set in and boom turned to bust and then the New Normal, we were left with some solid business models and invaluable services for the updated Global Village. Companies such as Amazon are still improving their business and have changed the High Street, and retail, forever.
The world went ‘online’ in what seemed a matter of months and consequently we needed a facility to ‘find’ the information we needed; a new term entered our lives that was called ‘Search’. It dominated the industry for years and it still does. Google now has a global advertising business that makes billions on the back of its search engine.
A new online term ‘Share’ entered our lives and the media world shuddered. You name it… music, films, books, software, anything that could be digitised was and is shared with strangers from London to Moscow to Gabon to Hawaii to the Solomon Islands. Comparison sites sprang up like daisies and changed the way we purchased car insurance.
The latest (and probably best) phenomena came next; It was based on the sharing concept. ‘Social Sharing or Social Media’ has allowed us to share our daily activities, post pictures and messages with our friends and family, or in the majority of cases with people we have never met.
As a by-product of this sharing platform that allowed total strangers to communicate with a degree of security and anonymity, a seminal event occurred in North Africa. The Arab Spring was an uprising of people fed up with Middle East dictators, but social media allowed a disparate group of people to come together on the internet and change their Government much faster than anybody expected, especially the dictators themselves.
Closer to home, Twitter allowed criminal gangs to co-ordinate the 2011 London riots and was also utilised by celebrities to promote themselves and interact with their fans.
So here we are in 2013, a global financial crisis, the rise of China, European uncertainty and globalisation marches on…. the term ‘dis-intermediation’ has thankfully gone.
As for ‘Search’ I don’t know about anyone else but I hate searching. When I can’t find my keys or mobile, I don’t feel good, I feel frustrated. ‘Share’? I hated it when I was a kid and now I realise sharing is only worth doing when I receive something in return.
Comparison on products saves me time, so I am OK with that. I don’t really use Facebook or Twitter, I stay in personal contact with my friends. I grew up with the mantra ‘a friend to everybody is a friend to nobody’ and although I see some value in sharing I prefer not to show off or constantly promote on these channels.
But what is irrefutable is that information is dominating our lives and is increasing at exponential rates. Corporations are investing billions in Big Data, analysing our lives, our transactions, our credit scores and all our purchases.
We carry mobiles that track where we are and who we talk to, companies know a lot about us and it can be overwhelming. They do this because it helps them target us to buy their products.
Consumers are always the last people to know, but if history has taught us anything is that ‘People Power’ or Democracy is still a force to be reckoned with. If we can democratise data and allow that data to be available for everyone then we the people will be empowered.
Those of us who can pull useful information together using this global communications channel, when and where they want it, will have acheived what the Internet should be. Something that allows us to make decisions that helps us make life easier, makes us happier and more successful. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power
The latest trends suggest this is slowly taking place. Meters and monitors are everywhere, household utilities now send information to iPads or smartphones to manage electricity usage more efficiently. Nike has a band that tracks steps, calculates calories and links back to a customised exercise regime, which can be linked to a Diet App!
We are seeing some progress, but are we really going to share our most intimate secrets with our friends? No. Health issues such as erectile disfunction are never shared by men with their mates. The same goes for both genders when it comes to admitting in public how much alcohol they really drink.
Our banks give us online statements that allows us to analyse our transactions and identify savings. Consumers do have a demand for information about them and that’s why we launched VisibleNation.
We actively encourage sharing lifestyle information (completely anonymously), so users can rate themselves against others. The site allows personal details to be analysed from different angles and the more data that is collected the more useful to the user it will become. We are building a consumer support tool, that will be continually growing and adapting to consumer requirements.
Human beings are competitive and very status-aware. The latest happiness-reports say that a major aspect affecting happiness is outperforming our peer groups. In working life, non-sharing is often beneficial to people’s career, too much information given out in the public domain can hinder personal progress.
When consumers pool their resources when they do so with crowdsourcing, we are seeing amazing things happen. A company raising $10 million on KickStarter for a ‘Iwatch’ is just one recent example.
At VisibleNation we are building the world’s largest global lifestyle database, so we gather the best insights from around the globe and provide research to focus consumer products and services. I love the fact that people share, but I really wish they would share something useful for once.