The Facebook IPO and the Big Data Craze

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Somini Sengupta’s article in today’s New York Times asks how to make gold out of Facebook’s Big Data pile. Indeed, in all my newsy feeds, a top story (I assume the world of news on finance has grown boring over the years) has to do with Facebook’s valuation. Is it $10 Billion or $100 Billion? Another anxiety in the piece has to do with the social model under the pressure of public holdings. The relationship here is how to make gold out of the data for stakeholders and how the stakeholder model will influence Facebook’s mechanics. It’s an interesting new media question. It should, perhaps, inspire other questions about how to think about internet use.

For example, Facebook could decide to charge users a $1 dollar a month for a subscription, $2 dollars for premium services. Or it could go with a public radio model and ask users to fork over a determination of value. This would, of course, amount to real money, close to a billion dollars a month, if everyone participated. It could inform each user that some of that money would go into assigned investments. This dollar more than competes with other data services.

The story of Facebook is buried deep in contemporary memes. One of these is “Big Data.” I don’t think users would be surprised at how fast data has become a metaphor. Try a search on Google or Bing. It’s all the rage on O’Reilly at the moment. Everyone has data. Some data is protected by law, other data is more ambiguous, a current mood, for example. Facebook has “tons” of it, some of it mine, which I’m uncomfortable with, not because I fear anything about privacy. In conversations between people at the cafe, every third word is the word “data.” When people talk to their mothers, their mothers respond with the word “data” more so than Captain Picard.

Note that I have no issue with data itself. We need to count things. My issue is with how we determine the value of something. To whom is my current mood of value?

All of this isn’t the only possible story. It could be that a user model is designed on the binary: teeny data. That a model is developed on the notion that one does not have to supply information, truthful or not (how much of all that user input is tweaked by users–re age: I’m 29), to use a service, that one does not need to login (what happened to the idea of superlogin–oh, I know?) to attend the party.

Data, given the meme, represents physicality. It comes with proportion; it has potential energy. It shares properties with rare minerals. But must it be this way? I note that at Quora the design concept has built into it a series of fields for email. This means that email is important. One cannot use Quora without an email account.

Someone could ask: why do we have to do it that way? We should pursue user models that ask different questions. I’m going to try one this summer just for kicks.


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