This was an interesting piece in the NYT yesterday. (And I would have posted it yesterday, but I kept looking for it at the WSJ site, thinking I’d read it in their print edition, and only realized my mistake today).
Headlined, "The Internet Knows What You’ll Do Next," it discussed the idea that … well, I’ll let the NYT explain:
A FEW years back, a technology writer named John Battelle began talking about how the Internet had made it possible to predict the future. When people went to the home page of Google or Yahoo and entered a few words into a search engine, what they were really doing, he realized, was announcing their intentions.
They typed in "Alaskan cruise" because they were thinking about taking one or "baby names" because they were planning on needing one. If somebody were to add up all this information, it would produce a pretty good notion of where the world was headed, of what was about to get hot and what was going out of style.
Mr. Battelle, a founder of Wired magazine and the Industry Standard, wasn’t the first person to figure this out. But he did find a way to describe the digital crystal ball better than anyone else had. He called it "the database of intentions."
The collective history of Web searches, he wrote on his blog in late 2003, was "a place holder for the intentions of humankind — a massive database of desires, needs, wants, and likes that can be discovered, subpoenaed, archived, tracked, and exploited to all sorts of ends."
Scary, huh? I mean, if you’re privacy advocate. I generally don’t worry too much about that stuff. I mean, I suppose I want to be left alone as much as the next guy, but if the government wants to include my phone records in a database that helps us catch terrorists, I figure it’s the least I can do for the war effort. Have at it.
I worry even less about what such a database of intentions would reveal about me. Of course, Battelle is talking about a collective database to track trends among millions of users (he sounds a bit like Obi Wan explaining The Force). But obviously, the same thing can apply — and already does apply, among marketers — on the micro scale to individuals.
Well, anybody who tries to read my intentions is going to get pretty confused. Any prophetic analysis based on my footprints on the Web would show that I have a greater-than-usual interest in:
- Andre Bauer’s MySpace site. I must be planning to vote for him!
- The U.S. Army War College. This, paired with the fact that I was recently observed wandering about that facility taking photographs, should be enough to warrant at least one black helicopter hovering over my house.
- Both old and recent pictures of James Taylor. Brad has certain anxieties that indicate he will be buying Rogaine in the future.
- The Three Stooges. Brad’s a knucklehead, and always will be — like Mary Rosh couldn’t have told you that.
- The Hunter S. Thompson classic, "Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga." This guy will soon buy either a motorcycle or a huge amount of drugs.
- White Supremacists in South Africa. Must be pining for Apartheid.
Good luck predicting the future from that, Merlin.