Take a look at this image:
Source: @wef; The Daily Shot
[Click to enlarge]
This chart is a snapshot of what happens on the internet in a minute.
In 60 seconds, 900,000 people log into Facebook. 450,000-thousand-odd tweets go out. Some 342,000 people download an app from Google Play or iTunes. And there are 3.5 million search queries on Google.
What’s most interesting about this chart is that social media accounts for the majority of the platforms. And they say that technology is hurting social interaction…
Another point to consider is that eight of the 16 platforms are completely free to use. That number rises to 12 if you throw in Tinder, LinkedIn, Spotify and the free apps available on Google Play and iTunes.
Why on Earth are these companies giving their product away for free?
We know these firms make money. The majority are public companies, giving us the ability to rifle through their financials each year. It would appear that the ads you find on these platforms are sufficient to support them.
Advertising does go some way to paying for the upkeep and development of these platforms — for now.
Yet the information we upload on these platforms could be equally as valuable to these companies.
Whenever you sign up to a free social media platform, you’re giving away information about yourself. Most of it is harmless enough: an email address, your full name, and your date of birth. It’s the modern-day equivalent of putting your details in the White Pages.
Yet it’s what you willingly contribute to these platforms each time you log in that matters.
SnapChat, for example, knows what ‘filters’ you prefer. If you’re not familiar, a filter is generally some silly cartoon you can put over your face to slightly alter your facial features (animal ears seem to be incredibly trendy at the moment). The photo-sharing app also happens to know your location. So, anytime you unlock your phone, you can actually add the exact details of where you are.
Facebook knows when you arrive at a destination. A notification suggests that you ‘check in’ to tell your network you’ve arrived. Tick. You then post a photo having a good time with friends. Rant about bad drivers. ‘Like’ a funny video. Tick, tick, tick. Suddenly, the algorithm at Facebook knows a whole lot more about you.
Spotify, a music subscription service, is similar. I had a blues music playlist playing recently. It included all my favourites. When the playlist ended, Spotify automatically started playing its own random selection.
But it didn’t play any old blues song. The algorithm worked out which songs I had played more often. And it matched that with songs that had a similar musical ‘feel’. This random playlist was incredible. Artists I’d never heard of before. There wasn’t a song I didn’t like.
And it creeped me out no end.
Yet Spotify’s algorithm was able to work this out only as a result of the information I’d willingly provided it.
Now, I’m not against using free apps. I’m all for social media as well.
But there is one crucial point many of us forget.
When a company provides a product to you for free, you’re the product.
The incredible revolution of data
When we use these platforms, we are giving these companies information about everything.
This information is at the core of a data-revolution.
Social media has existed in various forms since around 2004. The old-timers of social media may even remember MySpace.
From MySpace, the idea of sharing our lives online slowly transformed into the digital social-connection phenomenon we see today.
Along the way, this has produced incredible volumes of data.
In fact, the amount of digital traffic we create is staggering. Every day we produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. That’s about 7.5 million terabytes!
The question is: What are we to do with this data? Right now, it directly benefits the platform providers.
But towards the end of this decade, that will change. That’s because these companies will be able to use that information to predict new social trends.
Demographers and governments have used our data for decades to suss out future patterns. Now the information has moved online, and it’s easily trackable.
Rick Burgess, an analyst from Freshminds, an innovation consultancy, noted recently:
‘Using social data to predict consumer behaviour is nothing new, and many traders have been looking to include social metrics into their trading algorithms. However, because there are so many factors involved in pricing most financial instruments, it can be extremely difficult to predict how markets will change.’
In my view, the blockchain is going to reinvent how we look at social trends. Most people are only looking at the ways the blockchain will benefit the financial sector.
Yet data analysts are beginning to understand how the blockchain can be used to understand and predict social trends. Not only how they change year by year, but minute by minute as well.
There’s only one way this can happen: By using blockchain technology to analyse social trends and behaviour.
The only thing platform providers lack now is the computing power to analyse the data they hold. But that will change.
The blockchain is more than just the future backbone of financial contracts. It will drastically revolutionise the sharing of information. This is one shift in technology you don’t want to miss.
Editor, Markets & Money