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Quick Insights from the Big Boulder Data Event

On Thursday and Friday of last week, I attended the Big Boulder data conference, which brings together vendor, academics, analysts and practitioners of social data.  The purposes were many: discuss emerging trends, acknowledge the issues and challenges around privacy and security, and make introductions to encourage discussion of how we all envisage social data technology and by extension social data maturing.

I spent two days fastened in on how vendors believed social data could be used and how companies and researchers were ultimately using it. At times, there was a wide gulf and not only because the rate at which technology is evolving is rapid but because we, as an industry, recognize the importance of this data and don’t want to compromise the trust our customers and clients have for us.

The people at GNIP/Twitter are well aware of this and have spearheaded the Big Boulder Initiative, a task force created to address critical issues around stewardship, enablement, availability and value. If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

Over the two-day conference, there were over 45 sessions with topics ranging from Sina Weibo to the challenges of analyzing unstructured data to user-generated content vs. brand-created content.  Despite the wide scope of topics discussed, there was an underlying recognition that we were all in this together, that we have an obligation to manage the growth of social data in a responsible and secure manner and that we still had some growing up to do.

I could probably write several pages of themes and insights that I noted during the two days but here are three I thought we’re particularly interesting.

Visualize Whirled Peas

This year there was a lot of discussion around visualization and the impact of Tumblr and Pinterest, respectively.  One of the panelist believed that visual channels were happy because people like to engage with images.  I’m not sure I entirely buy that and other members of the panel were quick to argue to the contrary. However, watching the world wake up and go to sleep with Twitter was very compelling and did make me smile (if not happy).

Some members of the panels wanted customers to more fully recognize the value in sharing their location via a social platform.  I can see the benefits to users of the data; it was amazing to see the outline of common maps reveal themselves not through traditional boundaries but rather through social activities—outlines of cities, airports, etc. emerged as people Tweeted.  The panelists didn’t seem to share some of the anxieties I had about sharing my whereabouts in real-time.  Issues of safety and cyber-bullying can and should influence what people share online.  However, I liked the idea of using imagery to guide discovery and finding someone on say, something like Tumblr, with a similar aesthetic to encourage that connection.

We Do Have Some Standards Around Here, You Know

This was the first year, where I heard the admission that social does not have the same standard of measurement as say TV advertising, print ads, etc.. This wasn’t the familiar beat of the ROI drum but rather a recognition that we need to, as an industry, better define the value of social.  To date, we don’t have a verifiably mature model that clearly defines what comprises that value.  We don’t have a clear idea of when engagement matters most and how to attribute that activity. But honest conversations are beginning and everyone seems to recognize the importance to sales, marketing, HR, etc. to answer these questions.

Millennials vs. Digital Behavior—Which One Truly Matters

I have to admit this topic really intrigued me and I was excited to learn the digital characteristics of this generation. I don’t know if the resulting information was meant to make us all feel better (read: younger) but some of the panelists felt that generations should be segmented along the lines of digital behavior over age.  Susan Etlinger  suggested that we’ve been using demographic behavior as a proxy for categorizing customers and it’s losing its value.  It’s certainly true that using the blunt instrument of age to determine a person’s online social persona may omit a lot of detail but with each succeeding generation the use and proliferation of online tools can’t be entirely overlooked. Susan certainly wasn’t minimizing the influence of social technology broadly across generations but that we should perhaps adjust our lens to include more than just demographics to segment an audience.

#InformationOverload

In the two days, I met some great people, discovered that everyone is facing very similar changes and that it’s never been more exciting to be involved with Social Data.  Learn more about the Boulder Initiative here and the Big Boulder conference here.

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