Friday, August 31, 2007

Data Under Your Mattress

Ben Vershbow takes this Economist article and perfects the Google-as-bank conceit:

In these first few generations of personal computing, we've operated with the "money in the mattress" model of data storage. Information assets are managed personally and locally—on your machine, disks or external drives. If the computer crashes, the drive breaks, it's as though the mattress has burned. You're pretty much up the creek. Today, though, we're transitioning to a more abstracted system of remote data banking, and Google and its competitors are the new banks.


Dan said...

I don't think Vershbow goes far enough with the Google-as-bank metaphor. It seems odd to me to say that what banks did was consolidate people's money to make it safe, and in the process became trustees of all sorts of private information. That is certainly true. But it is arguably more important that banks (insurance companies, etc) consolidated people's money and made it into capital---capital that could go out into the world and change it. Google is doing the same thing, getting access to all of our harddrives and also all of our data. Info capital is different from physical capital, but there is an important similarity: having access to a massive collection of either one confers great power.

Tim said...

You're right, Dan -- and the original Economist article is closer to your point:

Google's business model (see article) assumes that people will entrust it with ever more information about their lives, to be stored in the company's “cloud” of remote computers. These data begin with the logs of a user's searches (in effect, a record of his interests) and his responses to advertisements. Often they extend to the user's e-mail, calendar, contacts, documents, spreadsheets, photos and videos. They could soon include even the user's medical records and precise location (determined from his mobile phone).

The analogy is also useful in thinking about the flow of information capital between consumer-users and advertisers. Google stores and preserves our information capital for free, which it instrumentalizes for its advertiser pay clients. Then the money from the advertisers in turn are converted to more information services for end-users. Our savings accounts become our mortgages, which become our IRAs, etc., by way of the assetization (?) of that information.