Tuesday, 17 June 2008

User 927: The new paradigms of influence and their risks

User 927 is a play premiering in Philadelphia, based on the infamous AOL weblog incident of 2006 – you may remember the 650,000 search weblogs that were inadvertently "released" by AOL and earned notoriety for the assault on privacy.

The play's storyline centres around tracing the mind of the "user 927" through his/her (perhaps a his, given the search terms) search queries over the 3 month period. I followed the conversation a bit- it is positively uncanny how much the search log reveals about the individual… for instance, about user 64,XXX who over a period from march to july, searched for the following- "fat calipers", "getting pregnant", "how to beat morning sickness", "looking good whilst pregnant", "wedding gowns for the pregnant", then the search terms take a different tack-"abortion clinics in place X", "can Christians have abortions" etc- as you can see- you get a clear view of what they are thinking- an individual's search terms, plotted on a timeline, can be used to build out a complete psychological profile .

Think implications search terms can be used for:

  • For the next level of micro- marketing- which of course means that precision targeting and precision focus is possible, and the benefit is that as a consumer you will not be hit by annoying ads, but will be targeted by messages that are absolutely spot-on not only for your interest, but also in timing. We are getting smarter about getting the individual's Interests right with the advent of social networks, but timing of the message is still a bit of a hit-and-miss.
  • There is a billion dollar industry around matching partners (personal and professional)- this could be very well used to enhance the quality of that match
  • Remember the Tom Cruise film Minority report and "precogs"? well, search log analysis and psycho profiling perhaps could be used to target crime-doers before the crime is committed.
  • Once the net goes mobile (which it already is, by the way!), locational and map based services are also an exciting opportunity to target

That said though, lets not forget about the possibilities that open up on the risk side?

  • We have Big Brother watching- given the sweeping powers by regulation and state authorities (eg the Patriot act, authoritarian nation states' -china), search terms could be used for illegal surveillance of individuals and unlawful targeting
  • Also, what goes around comes around- how do we ensure that privacy and security concerns are rightfully being paid heed to?

Haven't we heard this before? With entirely new set of tools that give us more power to profile, we are faced with the choice of that power being wielded both for good and for bad- so how do we regulate so that we maximize the good and minimize the bad?



Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Of technology, influence and presidential elections: Barack’s edge…

Did you know that in the volume of funding for his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has out raised Hillary Clinton , (now run this by me again? A nobody senator from Chicago is able to out-fundraise the invincible Clinton machine?) He gets more than $ 1 MM daily thro internet based funding mechanisms, and more important, this is not by accident, but by deliberate design? Well, I was listening to John Edwards speak at an event today and this is what I heard from him…

Interesting- I never thought I would be commenting about the US presidential elections, but hey, why not? All the candidates are needing to move a target audience (the citizens of the US)e from point A (don't care about you/ don't know above you) to point B ( will vote for you)- not that different from a marketing campaign's objective, right?.

The point I want to illustrate though is that Barack has harnessed the power technology to create influence today- and has displayed serious "marketing think"- think about it:

  1. By Design, Barack has avoided those "large ticket donors" which was the traditional way of doing things, and ,hence has retained the independence he needs to voice his views without worriying about hurting any of his big donors
  2. Any individual who has given $25 his campaign, has planted a flag on the ground, indicating that (s)he is a supporter, will vote Barack and will convert other folks to vote Barack- very impressive, given the steady stream of supporters that seem to continue to join his grass roots campaign
  3. An opportunity to sample/ research/ poll/ pass by a large base of voters and get their views before actually articulating them- and hence having a safety valve as well as a bouncing board for his policies
  4. An immense sense of "support" coming from a mass movement, rather than resting on a small group of hi-value donors- a big confidence building measure.

In creating online communities that have supported/ voted/ funded Barack, I have no doubt that the Facebook/Myspace and the deliberate on-line campaigns have played a very relevant role in Barack's upset of the apple cart of folks that were much more incumbent than he was- and we have a lesson to learn from the role technology has played in getting Barack to where he is today… the game of influence has been proven to be completely amenable to technology…