The afternoon’s plenary panel looked ahead 5-10 years to imagine what social media will look like and discuss what we can do now to prepare for the huge volume of data it’s bound to entail. The panel was moderated by Rob Zitz (SAIC) and consistet of Lou Martinage (Microstrategy), Rand Waltzman (DARPA), and Patrick Meier (Ushahidi). Here are some takeaways from each of the presentations.
Martinage discussed the wealth of data in Facebook and its potential business applications. He called Facebook the freshest, largest set of sentiment data in the history of mankind. It is the world’s largest aggregator of consumer data ever, and it’s refreshed almost every day. He then theorized about what you could do with that data. One of his potentially more controversial ideas was to use the data as a universal registry, able to allow organizations to synchronize their enterprise systems with Facebook, or create friendly applications, based on your data and that of your friends, to use a “circle of trust” to set boundaries.
The Double-Edged Sword
Waltzman enthusiastically highlighted the double-edged sword of the connected environment we live in, saying that as more life takes place in the connected environment, more good things will happen and more bad things will happen. He highlighted the dark side, declaring that for every good story you can point to (e.g. crisis mapping), he can show you a way to do something more devious, even perverting whatever good story you point out. He backed up his claims with stories about people who used social media to cause a run on rice (saying it protected from radiation following the Japan tsunami), the use of astro-turfing (creating fake grassroots campaigns through the use of bots), or the 50 Cent party (Google it).
The Role of People
Meier tried to reinstill some hope in the audience by talking about the potential for good. He started by discussing the well-documented Red Balloon challenge and Ushahidi mapping in Haiti. Ushahidi was approached by humanitarian organizations during fighting in Libya to help map the crisis. The Standby Task Force, a global pool of volunteers, sprung into action to help make a crisis map of Libya. He pointed out that Ushahidi's process is very manual, especially compared to the tools on display at tech@state, because many high-power analytical tools are not available to the average person. So, Ushahidi relies on real-time manual crowdsourcing to create the information that can be used to assist humanitarian efforts. Meier ended with a vision for the future: collaborative platforms that allow for crowdsourcing the filtering, rather than aggregation of data, allowing an organization like Ushahidi to more efficiently use manpower and be involved in multiple emergencies at once.