The Great Data Overload Part 1: Meaning vs Megabytes

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 4.17.07 pm

Image © 1943 Universal Pictures Co., Inc.

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?

Notes:

* 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”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content Marketing and the “New Hierarchy of Needs”

Maslow’s theory on the “Hierarchy of Needs” has become shorthand for explaining human behaviour and motivation – primarily in our personal lives, but increasingly in our working lives. At the risk of offering an answer to yet another first world problem, it seems to me that many social media platforms and content marketing solutions are trying to recalibrate Maslow for generating deeper (and sometimes more meaningful) engagement with consumers. So, by way of a simple infographic, I am offering my own theory on the new hierarchy of needs:

New Hierarchy of Needs

 

When we are looking for a product or service to meet a need, we are usually in “discovery mode” – we are searching for content that helps us by offering suggestions, comparing products and prices, and clarifying the precise need. So, we are either browsing, curious, or looking for assistance.

Having found some possible solutions, we seek reassurance via informed recommendations, peer referrals and published reviews. We may place different weight on this information depending on the source, but we are seeking justification for our reason to buy, or validation for becoming a customer.

If we are happy with our choice, and given the right opportunity and encouragement, we may be willing to tell our friends and anyone else who’s interested via Likes and social media posts and reviews. This is an interesting point in the engagement transaction – going from peer-to-peer sharing, to looking for approval for our decision from the wider community.

Finally, if we are so enamoured with the product, and we enjoy sharing our experiences, we may be flattered into making a lifestyle statement about our preferences; we could become a self-identified “voice of authority” through blogging and endorsements, or we might be willing to be closely identified with a brand as an advocate or champion (the sort of customer beloved of Net Promoter Scores).

The ultimate consumer-turned-champion was, of course Victor Kiam, the customer who liked the product so much, he bought the company….

Has web-traffic analysis just got better or worse thanks to Google search encryption?

Last month, WordPress informed its customers that Google has expanded search encryption to cover any search except for clicks on ads. The impact will mean less detail about which keyword searches are driving traffic to your website. Debate among industry observers suggested that this was done either in response to security-related issues, or simply to maximise ad revenue.

I’ll leave you to decide what the real motive is, and to determine what your own response should be around SEO strategies. My sense is that content owners and social marketers will sharpen their use of keywords, and devise new tactics to maximise the value of web traffic analytics. As one commentator has observed, Google has a near monopoly on search – but in the end, it’s their platform and they’ll do what they want with it.

From my own analysis here at Content in Context, the number of “unknown search terms” far outweighs precise keyword or search strings, but thanks to the WordPress stats, I am still able to get a reasonably informed sense of what drives traffic to this blog:

  • Social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) account for about half of all referrals to Content in Context (including 10% from Reddit, even though I do not actively participate on that platform)
  • Search engines comprise about one-third of referrals (with Google Search accounting for over 90%)
  • Meetup is an increasingly important source of referrals
  • Embedded links (used selectively) can also be a useful source of referrals

I have found some interesting citations to my blog (including undergraduate study forums), and I figure I must be doing something right when third parties approach me to write about their products or to include advertorial content in my blog – and of course, I would declare any such interest when it arises!

Even though I do not pay for Google ad words, or undertake any paid-for SEO, this blog comes up 2nd (after paid results) when using Google search for “Content in Context”.

One outcome from Google search encryption will undoubtedly be a renewed focus on providers offering contextual search solutions, because keyword search relies primarily on frequency, proximity and assumed relevance of search terms, rather than actual contextual meaning.

So, in some ways Google’s decision to encrypt all search will make everyone else lift their game, which can only be positive.