Tracking ideas not people

 

In 2003 I developed a concept I called AISS, which stands for All Ideas Start Somewhere. It was just a series of thoughts, nothing was ever built.

By today’s standards it isn’t anything to make you look twice, it was simply an idea to track what I saw would be the vast publicly available reaches of content. And then to understand how that content moved through the various technical layers that presented it to us, the public.

It was clever, for its time, but I still couldn’t get anyone to spend money to put it together. It is, of course, a lot easier 10 years later to claim with hindsight, that it was a good idea.

Since then, of course, various parts of the concept have come to pass, completely independently of me, and none in the exact format that I was suggesting. My logic was not unique, just early and unconnected to working capital.

That said I still think that an opportunity has been missed. The thing that I think is still absent is best thought of as a missed turning, a right / left option that when taken led into a murky forest instead of an angelic dale or meadow.

In 2003 I was suggesting that the unit of tracking should be the content itself, and that we needed to monitor the movement of the content through our digital ecosystems.

Instead we track people.

The internet is a vast looking glass that hardly anyone uses to its fullest potential. Instead of understanding what people want and giving it to them, we instead understand where people are and give them what we want them to have.

As everything changes, nothing changes.

Marketing has spent most of its life pushing crafted messages at vast demographics hoping for response rates that are typically less than a fraction of a percentage point. Brand marketing has hitched its wagon onto any number of perceived positive memes hoping that some of that positivity will attach to the brand itself. It’s a logical idea, but I’m at a loss as to why no-one seems to use the internet’s salient visibility to track the ideas or memes that are naturally liked by the target demographics.

Instead we have built a vast people tracking infrastructure that is so sophisticated it was co-opted by the NSA and GCHQ. This isn’t about the Snowden revelations, or at least it’s not about the morality of the Snowden revelations, it is instead a short note to point out that we have built such a great and vast tracking panopticon that even the spies wanted in.

And in return? Well, we still don’t get response rates that beat what we could get 20 years ago while we are failing to build trust with our customers over the use of their data. And the key words in that last sentence? …their data…  it might sit on company databases today, but it is still their (the consumer, the prospect, the customer) data. It should be treated as such. 

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