Over the past few decades, we have witnessed the datafication of business, of society, and of everyday life. There appear to be three major phases of datafication. In the first phase, an activity or process becomes increasingly reliant on data. In the second, data begins to transform the activity or process by taking a central role in its execution. In the third phase, the activity is moved entirely into the data substrate.
Take the movie business. Putting artistic considerations aside, the success of any film has always been a measurement of how much revenue it generates. Originally, this was a pretty straightforward matter of counting box office receipts. (Today, what with many and varied distribution channels and considerations such as licensing and merchandising that often come into play, the math for calculating success is considerably more complex.) The film industry entered the first phase of datafication relatively early on, as studios began trying develop formulas for repeat box office success. have witnessed the datafication of business, of society, and of everyday life. There appear to be three major phases of datafication. In the first phase, an activity or process becomes increasingly reliant on data. In the second, data begins to transform the activity or process by taking a central role in its execution. In the third phase, the activity is moved entirely into the data substrate.
The data points were, at first, relatively few and far between: geographic differences in box office; one star’s draw vs. another; westerns vs. romances vs. war movies vs. musicals; summer releases vs. Christmas releases. Over time, the analysis evolved in terms of sophistication until the industry reached the second phase of datafication. This is how we came to live in an age of scripts written for a target adolescent male audience and re-edits and even rewrites following test screenings. The data began to drive the process.
But data wasn’t done with the movies yet. The film industry is moving rapidly into the third phase of datafication. Once upon a time, filmmakers made films. Long strips of celluloid with images on them. We’ve all heard of efforts to preserve decaying movies from the early part of the last century. Film was a chemical and mechanical process resulting in a physical artifact. But not today. The product of the film-making process is now essentially a data artifact. Movies are consumed over digital networks on TVs, laptops, and smartphones. And, in fact, they can now be made entirely on smartphones. Short messages, tweets, motions pictures…it’s all the same. It’s all data.
The big data revolution is ultimately about this kind of transformation in all sectors of all industries. The movie and music businesses are obvious examples of industries that have made it at least part of the the way to phase three. But then so is the telecommunications industry. Shipping and logistics have become as much about data as they are about moving stuff around. Even manufacturing is moving in that direction — and will continue to do so as digital fabrication and 3D printing become increasingly mainstream.
Right now the world as whole is really just beginning to move from phase 1 to phase 2. Data is beginning to influence and direct the world in ways never before considered. And we are still in the very early days.