This house believes that society benefits when we share information online! This was the topic of debate before the Economist magazine’s Ideas Economy: Information 2012 conference here in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon. Tom Standage, digital editor for the Economist, moderated this lively battle of wits.
Defending the motion was John Perry Barlow, former Grateful Dead lyricist and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This is a little like defending sex!” he started off by saying.
I am paraphrasing here but he went on to say, ‘The Internet is an environment where what is great about human beings can manifest itself…collectively we are much smarter than any individual. Just as my mitochondria are unaware of my thoughts, we are largely unaware of our collective genius.’
I could not agree more.
Opposing the motion was Andrew Keen, Internet entrepreneur and author of “Cult of the Amateur.”
Again, paraphrasing, ‘Repressive governments and private companies who make the 1% look poor, are also benefitting. Most of the information is being stolen,’ Keen said. ‘Today everything has to be social.’
Keen rails against our intimate selves being taken from us and traded on by bazzilionaires, with not much coming back to we, the sharers. ‘Barlow would not be who he is, if he not had his years of very aloneness,’ said Keen, paraphrased.
I wish they had spoken about who gets to monetize and how often people get consulted in the trade. These are the big questions. For me, this is why athenaCoordinator and our new orders-based pricing of athenaClinicals are so very important. It’s only fair that the people who benefit most from information are paying a small fee to those who help provide it.
BUT we are going to need to learn to cut consumers in, too, over time. We will need to give them value that lets them feel good about being added to our “big data” and probably give them a way to opt out their data, over time.
I had my turn on the stage with Heidi Messer, Co-founder of Collective[i], and Kevin Lynch, Chief Technology Officer at Adobe. Moderator Kenneth Cukier, data editor for the Economist, wasted no time in asking me how athenahealth would compensate patients for their data if it was used for a higher purpose.
To me, that data doesn’t come for free to begin with. We only gain it by performing valuable work for care providers, supporting care coordination, and giving patients better access to and expedition through the health care supply chain. As we embed ourselves more deeply in this supply chain, you can imagine a more direct way to deliver value to patients for their participation. This can come through premium discounts, pharmaceutical benefits, or simply more transparency around their personal health status and the financial and clinical consequences of their behaviors.
Lastly, I am adamant that interaction with data flows is infinitely more powerful than sampling of data piles. Most talk of “big data” seems to feel like taking “core samples” from an iceberg of existing data to find truth. NO! Core samples are cool but now we can go from big data to big flows. We can ask questions whose answers aren’t in the data yet and then answer them in the flow…then rinse, lather, repeat until we really start understanding.
This allows us to learn from data, refine our questions for it, refine what data we would need to answer those refined questions, accumulate such data over the cloud, and then iterate. Our learning is so nascent today that this iteration will be certain to roll like wildfire for a long while.
You ain’t seen nothing yet…
Jonathan Bush co-founded athenahealth, a leading provider of internet-based business services to physicians since 1997. Prior to joining athenahealth, he served as an EMT for the City of New Orleans, was trained as a medic in the U.S. Army, and worked as a management consultant with Booz Allen & Hamilton. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in the College of Social Studies from Wesleyan University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. This post first appeared at athena’s blog.