I've been rather quiet on this blog for a while, I appreciate. To be frank, my split Metadata/Convergence role has seen me rather concentrating on the latter over the last few months, what with the three rounds of TSB feasibility study funding available under the banner Convergence in a Digital Landscape - you may have seen some of my rather more active presence around that over on the Convergence blog.
Anyhow, last week I found myself up in Cambridge for Silicon Valley Comes to the UK event - or series of events. My partner in the consultancy Turner Hopkins, Sarah Turner was on the advisory board of SV2UK and one way and another I got involved with the social media side of things for it. Both Sarah and I will be writing up some wider thoughts over on our own blog, but in the meantime I wanted to report back on a couple of things of relevance here.
First up, on Friday afternoon we were at the launch of the Cambridge Cluster Map - a project by Cambridge2You. Developed by, among others, Tech City's Trampoline Systems, the CCM is an iterative development of the Tech City Map. Like its predecessor, CCM pulls in real-time data from many sources to build a dynamic online database of technology companies in the Cambridge area - which has good reason to consider itself the real UK equivalent of Silicon Valley. The site's users can search for company details through dozens of different lenses, from financial stats through to product histories, staff makeup and so on.
Here's a video explaining the thinking behind the project and its implementation, including commentary form Sherry Coutou, SVC2UK's founder, and Charles Armstrong, CEO of Trampoline.
The reason I bring it up here is, well, for a start, it's a very fine example of a "big data" resource - a multiple-source, multi-functional website of genuine utility. And one with an elegant, simple and intuitive UI. But something else struck me to - prompted by talking it through with Sarah. CCM has taken geography as its starting point - that is, Cambridge - with an overarching sector "underneath" that. But data is data is data - you can slice it how you like. We're constantly discussing the kinds of companies that make up the creative industries - their size, their scope, makeup and of course the kind of contribution they make to UK GDP. Wouldn't it be fabulous to have a version of the Cluster Map which mapped out the entire UK creative economy? As the kids would say: #i'mjustsayin.
(You can also get a sense of how the launch went, and the notables who spoke at it, by searching the hashing #C2You on twitter.)
The that Friday evening we attended the MedTech panel event, which sought to take a look at how patients' lives might look in 10 years' time. The panel was chaired by Andy Richards and featured George Freeman (MP) and Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK and founder of the Crick Institute. They were joined by four Silicon Valley entrepreneurs involved in healthcare: Alice Rathjen (DNA Guide), David Levison (Cardiodx), Ramesh Raskar (MIT MediaLab) and Stanley Yang (NeuroSky). Each presented their own thoughts on where healthcare was headed over the next decade (and of course the entrepreneurs did a bit of a pitch!) and then Richards, himself a health sector investor, steered an excellent discussion which ranged from the control of machines with brainwaves to the transformation of the web into a medical network with patients owning their own "biological domains"
Again, I'll be writing this up in full over on my own blog but I wanted to highlight something in particular here. For me, three themes emerged in the discussion: constant diagnosis, cross-disciplinary thinking and truly individualised medicine. And key to all of these, but especially the first and last, is that they are data problems to solve, or rather, they represent thousands of data issues to resolve (something, as it happens, I've been thinking about for some time now, as a fascination with the "quantified self" movement grew out of my obsession with Timothy Ferriss' approach to health and fitness). Specifically, with regard to the creative industries, I have two observations.
Firstly, throughout the discussion, people made reference to lessons to be learned from the content industry, and how it had made great use of customer data and content consumption data; it's what I've referred to elsewhere as the "Amonization of everything". I think this is absolutely correct - and only wish sometimes that the content industry itself recognised just what it has achieved with metadata!
Secondly, there a huge opportunity here. Let's just take it as a given that the whole area of health and data is going to grow and grow. As ever, one of the issues here is going to be the usability of all that data. Now half that problem is a maths one: how to create smarter algorithms to trawl and analyse it all? But visualisation and representation of data is a big challenge too, particularly with patients required to take more agency over their health and therefore needing clearer and more intuitive, visual ways to "read" their health stats and understand the impact of their lifestyle - and their genetic inheritance - on their health and well being.
All in all, a fascinating day and a reminder of just why big data is such big news right now.