…and I don’t mean the character from Star Trek TNG.
Google has been put in a lot of hotwater here in Australia recently for collecting data from wifi networks around the country while out and about in their street view cars. When I first read about this my initial reaction was that it would be useful information to overlay on a map – maybe filtered by carrier so you can find the nearest area that you can get a connection to your chosen ISP via wifi instead of using up your phone’s data cap. That would be useful data!
It turns out they actually collected about 600gig of data from those networks, which isn’t as useful. Senator Conroy believes this data needs to be gone through to see what it is, for reasons that seemingly only make sense to him, because anyone who knows anything about wifi would know that a car on the road constantly has about as much chance of collecting your bank details as it would to be struck by a meteor comprised entirely of melted down Simpsons dvds. Not to mention the fact that every bank in Australia, and probably the world, uses SSL encryption so even then the data is still pretty much useless.
But it’s made me think a little deeper about my initial reaction – while most people were reading and thinking about how Google’s broken the law and allegedly stolen personal information, I was thinking that it was a great idea.
It’s because I’m a data junkie. I love constructing or finding a way to utilise useful organised data. Graphs and charts and diagrams, structured databases, I can’t get enough.
I’m also an advocate for digital privacy so I don’t mean every piece of data out there, but things that people could find useful to have access to in a user friendly way. It doesn’t really matter what the data actually is either, it could be about coffee drinking trends, or stock prices, or the flight speed of various types of laden or unladen swallows. I don’t care, I just want structured data so that I can make something useful out of it and hopefully someone else will find it useful or interesting too. In this information age we live in now, with smart phones and netbooks and soon an explosion of tablet PC’s, data about anything is very important, and useful. I’m finding more and more with custom projects of my own design, that I’m subconsiously developing everything with the end result being able to give accurate, useful reports on any aspect of the system. Even if the system is only in super-alpha or has only just be conceptualised, I’m thinking of how the fields will work together to give the maximum amount of flexibility and be able to deliver even the most wildly creative but data-accurate reports on the system’s use when it’s finished. I know, crazy right? I’m addicted to good data.
Data is useless without context and structure though, which is often the part that most system designers fail at. Apart from Google, another good example is Amazon. They were among the first to use the data they had access to, the context it was in, and the relevancy it had to what was happening, to bring the concept of upselling to the web. Even today they still are market leaders and like Google are pushing into more and more data driven areas and making a lot of money doing it.
And then ofcourse, there’s Facebook. Oh my god, I would love to have a tour of their database system. I do have some moral problems with their latest attempt at owning the internet, but I’ve got to hand it to them, they know the power of well structured data collection.
One day I might be lucky enough to design something of that scale.
Who knows, it could even be the project I’m on now.