This week at Cloud Connect in Santa Clara, I had a chance to sit down with Alistair Croll, founder of Solve for Interesting. I had been vaguely aware of the site 23andMe that tests and individual’s spit to help customers, “learn valuable health & ancestry information.” Not only can they tell you which of 22 world populations your DNA comes from, they can tell you your odds of developing diabetes, Parkinson’s disease or a dangerous drug allergy.
This by itself wasn’t completely new to me, though I’d thought about having it done for my wife, who was adopted and doesn’t know her biological parents. After talking with Alistair, I signed up both my wife and myself just a few minutes ago. I’m both eager and afraid to see the results.
Marketers and psychiatrists
But then I had a chance to talk about the things that aren’t so hard-wired into our bodies at the chromosome level. Alistair and I talked about the things that come up after we’re born and how our personalities develop. Just like our DNA, we have a ‘mental genome‘ that becomes the pattern of things we say and do based on our environment and history. Yes, this is the nature versus nurture argument but there’s something that’s never been quite so clear that Big Data is starting to reveal: We are very predictable if there’s enough data about us.
Psychiatrists and marketers have known for quite some time that people fit into behavioral groups. Marketers used demographics while psychiatrists use Rorschach Tests and the MMPI. Both approaches are using data sets that are limited and impersonal to draw personal conclusions about people. Put another way, if I say ink blots look like Japan, a bear and a taxi driving really, really fast, my responses may be the same as someone who is depressed or someone who is adventurous, depending on my answer.
But there are a limited number of demographics and a limited number of ink blots. We can only go so far.
The Netflix paradigm
What if the opposite were true? What if every choice we made increased the data set and further refined what we are likely to think, say and do. What if the testing material was constantly increasing and that every other person in the world ‘taking the test’ was constantly refining the results? Well, then you’d have Netflix. 29 million streaming video subscribers that are searching, watching and rating. Each click and each minute spend viewing (including where and when you pause) speaks to something about who you are.
And this is a push/pull situation. Netflix with House of Cards even brags that they designed a program for a swath of ‘known’ viewers and they know exactly who to recommend for it. It means they’re testing for tendencies and then tailoring output to meet those precise proclivities and then sending you to it, just for good measure. Wow.
Your Netflix genome is possibly the best Rorschach-Test-Meets-Marketing-Segmentation every conceived. And it gets stronger with every click.
Broadening the data
In March, Netflix rolled out Facebook integration. When I read it the first time, I thought, “Oh, I can now share my favorites directly to Facebook instead of manually letting my friends know.” After Cloud Connect and my conversations with Alistair, however, I see this completely differently. I see that Facebook and Netflix are now a ‘social Rorschach marketing’ play the likes of which has never been constructed in history. It is both genius and scary. My curiosity wants me to participate in this and my inner libertarian wants me to go into hiding off the grid.
For any of us who don’t yet see the power of Big Data, time to wake up and smell the behavior patterns. As a business, you can master the game and as an individual, you can understand the implications and affect your public persona.
Why not go off the grid you ask? As Alistair points out in Policing the Mental Genome:
One approach to avoiding all of this analysis is to simply “disconnect.” But that, too, might backfire. Following shootings in Norway and Colorado, reporters speculated that the shooters’ lack of presence on social platforms was an indicator of their intentions.
Ouch. Comments welcome.