What Comes After Data?

Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures has an important and thought provoking post up titled What’s next?  Whenever Brad writes something, I read it carefully – not only because he has a fantastic first name – but because he usually nails something important. 

Brad’s description of the progression of the “central value proposition” in the computer system over time – from hardware, to systems software, to application software, to networks, and ultimately data is a great framework.  He asserts that the next layer of value will come from governance.

If you are an entrepreneur or an investor in tech companies, it’s worth a slow, meditative read.

  • sigma

    Think of data like wheat. Then “what comes after data” is something like what comes after wheat.

    So, with wheat, can add eggs and water and make dough. Roll it out and make ravioli. Or just buy it in cans — I do.

    Saute some ground beef with olive oil and onions, then some garlic and pepper. Drain.

    In olive oil, saute some onions. Add some garlic. Deglaze with some red wine and reduce. Add some canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices. Mix it and simmer it.

    In a dish, add ground beef, shredded Mozzarella cheese, sauce, ravioli, and heat in a microwave oven. Top with grated Romano cheese.

    It can be good! All that good tasting red stuff is the ‘secret sauce’!

    Like wheat, to make data more valuable need to do some extra steps!

    E.g., one of the big goals is to use data to determine how to do better ad targeting. Bad ads are very expensive; good ads are very valuable. Better ad targeting is important.

    Okay, how to get some data and use it to do better ad targeting?

    Okay, suppose the data is on people. Then, hmm …, put the people into ‘clusters’? For each cluster, find some good ads. Then, given a new person, find what cluster they are in and give them the ads for that cluster?

    Problem: These ‘clusters’ do not correspond to anything we know exists. So, such ‘clusters’ are just intuitive guesses and heuristic.

    Also, we might get a lot of data on people. Then we could not hope to do well characterizing all this data with just a few clusters. Indeed, we might need nearly as many clusters as people.

    Clusters can have some value, but it’s just guessing, mental shooting in the dark.

    So, how would we do better? So, given a new person, we want to use the data we do have to say what ads would get their attention. We do believe that some ads will do better than others; so, what we are looking for really does exist (unlike clusters). So, how might we find it?

    So, we want some means to use some data to give us some other data that would be valuable, e.g., for ad targeting. Maybe this sounds like mathematics? Horrors! That data, and computing, might have to do with mathematics!

    But, isn’t computing enough? No! Think of computing like the chef’s knife, cutting board, bowls, pots, and stove. Still need good recipes to know how to turn wheat, beef, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cheese, etc. into good ‘secret sauce’! Indeed, the more challenging and valuable part is creating the recipe, not using the kitchen tools.

  • Brad I agree – great post by the other Brad 🙂

    I have taken some time to answer the question of “what’s next?” here:

    Manual Trackback – http://www.touchstonelive.com/blog/2007/02/brad-burnham-asks-whats-next.html