The future of web 2.0 and social web has been seen for long under the strengthening of user participation. It seems that we’ve reached the end of a cycle. As a matter of fact, heavy trends like data and objects – commonly marketed as big data, connected objects and internet of things – are nothing more than the future of participation.
Participation is plateauing
The participation of everyone, which has been presented as the ultimate stage of collective intelligence has been nothing more than a mirage.Â The contributor/customer ratio on the web is stagnating in such a way that it’s admitted that the 1-10-90 rule and its avatars won’t be disrupted in a near future. Customer engagement in communities stagnates at 4% and the gap between actual customers expectations and what businesses think they are is still wide and deep : the ones expect discounts and services while others plan to offer conversations and good intentions. It’s even worse inside organizations. Employees areÂ deserting social collaboration tools that implies more and more extra workÂ to participate while they only want things that support their work.
It’s not because people don’t like participation, it’s not because it’s useless and has no value. We’ve simply reached the critical mass of convinced people, of believers and, as a kind of social fatigue is more and more perceptible , we need ways to leverage this incredible potential until we find new approaches to re-enchant the ones and attract the others.
Big Data and Connected Objects : the dawn of passive participation
It’s not participation that wearies people nor its lack of sense but its active nature. It requires time (without being sure to get anything in return) and attention. No one denies the advantages of information sharing but employees don’t understand why it requires extra work and citizens are happy from the benefits they get from the use of collective data (even unconsciously) but won’t spend their life behind their screen to provide a predictive, analysing and proposition machine with ideas, feedbacks and experiences.
The message looks clear : participation is ok as long as it’s passive. “Take what’s available (in respect to what I consider public/private) but don’t ask me to do any extra work for you. In this perspective, the consumer who shared a review on his blog, on twitter, on Amazon, won’t participate in a survey conducted by the concerned brand, the employee that produced tons of documents and data won’t complete his profile in the enterprise social network while all the necessary data are already available elsewhere. Why should one share some numbers that could help the collective or the community while Open Data can do the job ? Why entering the information and data related to my runs in a system while Nike’s gadgets can do it on my behalf ?
Data are the exhaust of our activities
We generate data all day long. By creating information, by using any tool or service, by working, by living. We create data and meta-data (data about the context of data). What changed is the new ability we and technology have to capture, store, share and process them in real time and at scale. That’s a first form of passive participation : the invisible and effortless contribution to the system. In the background. Data are the exhaust of our activities : it’s more about capturing and recycling data than documenting the activities that generates them.
Then come connected objects that are a second form of passive participation. Of course, their connected nature allow to act on them remotely but that’s not why they matter. They are the sensors of our activities. They now how much we run, we sleep, how long we watch TV (and even what we watch), when we turn the lights on and off, when we take the metro, at what station, to what destination, how much water we consume. They are also the sensors of natual activitiesÂ : rainfalls, temperatures etc.
Connected objects : the sensors of out activities
Information and communication technologies generate data as we generate information. Connected objects generate data from the rest of our individual and collective economies, even from non-human activities.
Both taken together embody the second era of participation : passive participation. An unprecedented opportunity to understand collective dynamics and patterns, understand how individual actions contribute to collective systems (even unconsciously) and at scale because it does not depend one people’s will to contribute to what is nothing more than the biggest collective intelligence system ever.
The Big Data challenge is about ethics, not technology
Big Data and Connected Objects are not different discipline than social business, collaboration and participation approaches. They are in fact extending these approaches, getting rid of the weight of participation and embed a decision making side (ie a value) that used to lack.
They are also a major threat for privacy and personal freedom. People need guarantees and an irreproachable ethics from data operators. We’re still far from that and the human, social and almost philosophical challenge is at least as important as the technology one. If not more.