On Metadata and the Potential for Personal Business Intelligence

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One of the hallmarks of successful network services today, such as the often-mentioned-in-this-space del.icio.us, Flickr or their respective equivalents, is a reliance on simple, straightforward metadata as a foundation for search, classification, retrieval, etc.

A potentially unforeseen – and arguably more important – downstream impact of this proliferation of user/automatically generated metadata might be the rise of what I’ve called in the past, “Personal Business Intelligence” tools. The premise is absurdly simple: enterprise class tools essentially parse a wealth of corporate data and present it in some fashion – reporting, visually, or otherwise – to allow for identification of meaningful insights or observations. Their Personal counterparts would do the same, but with a different – and far less normalized, obviously – set of underlying data.

As consumers begin to accumulate metadata attached to their generated content – be it blogs, music, or photos, some interesting possibilities arrive for similar data mining. It’s intriguing, for example, to consider the possibility of a tool that can tell me – at a particular point in time – what I was thinking (via blogs), what I was reading (via bookmarks), where I was (via photos), who I was talking to (via email/IM), and what I was listening to (via music observation). Or to imagine a service such as I proposed in the link above, that provides me with more sophisticated intelligence on one area – like bookmarks – as the very interesting Extisp.icio.us does. In a sense, this is just extending the proactive rather than reactive use of metadata espoused by the Dashboard team, among others.

This is powered, of course, by not only the observable nature of many of our digital behaviors today – but by the ability to persist that information indefinitely.

The questions are many, as are the potential abuses of such information. But simply with what’s available now – forgetting future innovations, this technically can be accomplished.

Key to a successful approach – in my mind – is not the technology. That could come from a variety of providers. Instead, it’s so-called soft-issues that I think will decide the winner, i.e. how open the interfaces are to allow for service substitution, and perhaps most importantly, the trust that potential solution providers have earned over time.

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