Data storage is big business, and research suggests we currently spend 30% more per annum on buying additional capacity. Interestingly, a significant part of that growth is being met by the use of tape storage – which is far more energy-efficient than traditional hard drive arrays.
No doubt, this storage demand is being driven by data automation, cloud technologies, mobile transactions, social media and the desire to know everything about everything. But why do we really need to store so much data? Although we have the ability to store exponentially increasing numbers of terabytes, and even though the management costs are stabilising, what are we really doing with it all? Aside from meeting legal and compliance obligations, what are we hoping to achieve with all this data? How much of it is actually contributing to improving our knowledge, increasing our understanding or helping us to uncover valuable insights?
First a slight detour. A few days ago, I was watching a DVD of “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” (1943). Holmes is investigating the disappearance of a top-secret document, which he deduces has been transferred to microfilm “the size of a postage stamp”. He further explains to Dr. Watson that microfilm enables carrier pigeons to transport the equivalent of 18,000 letters*. I was surprised, because I hadn’t been aware that microfilm was in use in the 1940’s (but a quick check of this article soon clarified the issue).
Anyway, to return to my original theme: have we lost sight of meaning in our pursuit of megabytes?
The issue of contextualisation is central to much of my work, and increasingly I am finding that while companies (especially those engaged in data analytics, content marketing and social media) understand the mechanics of Big Data, SEO, blogging, channel management etc., they are less able to understand the “why?” of what they are doing, or cannot articulate what their goals are or what their expectations might be in trying to capture ever-increasing amounts of data, or deploying new content generation and management tools.
It seems to me that they haven’t clearly framed the context for the tools they are using, nor have they anticipated what results they should expect to see from these efforts. Rather, they focus on capturing more data and generating more content; instead of stepping back and asking “if we do this, what might the outcome be?”, and then clarifying whether that is a good use of their resources.
A small example: the use of “smart” content management tools means that companies can automate the sharing of third-party posts, headlines, Tweets, news and blogs. One of my clients is a career management consultancy, whose content was recently referenced by another career information service. Which was flattering, until I investigated further and discovered that this latter company had simply chosen to share any content with the words “career” or “careerchange” in the headline – which included news items about cars crashing into buildings and athletes achieving PB’s….
If only they had bothered to think ahead about what content they were likely to end up sharing, rather than trying to maximise their output, they wouldn’t have risked confusing their audience.**
Next week: Is Digital Making Us Dumber?
* Watch here from about 20:15 onwards. For comparison, it prompted me to estimate how many 3.5″ floppy disks you would have needed to store that many documents, given their meagre 1.44MB capacity. (The answer is 48.) For further comparison, the computer aboard Apollo 11 had 36KB of ROM, and 2KB of RAM. Nowadays, we won’t leave home without a minimum 16GB smart phone.
** See my related analysis which led me to conclude that context is all about the difference between “data” and “knowledge”.