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Susan Etlinger: Research Agenda for 2016

Susan Etlinger
Susan Etlinger TEDx

A few weeks ago, my Altimeter colleagues and I published our 2016 trends overview. In it, I called out three themes that I expect will become more predominant this year:

·      Analytics for the visual web (images, video, etc.);

·      Ethical data use and privacy; and

·      The rise of algorithms to measure and predict even more of our daily and business lives.

While these three themes may seem disconnected, they intersect in interesting ways. In an effort to innovate, and better understand and anticipate customer needs, organizations are becoming even more focused on collecting data about “the customer journey.” That journey, as is increasingly evident, includes images and video more than ever before. 

So how can we better understand the content and context of those images? How do we understand them in combination with other signals, whether in language (posts, comments) or buttons (likes, shares, retweets) or passively via location or movement? What are the most effective research methods that honor customer and consumer preferences? What happens when what we understand to be true is encoded into algorithms that, increasingly, make decisions on our behalf? How do analytics need to evolve to make sense of an increasingly digital world in a way that engenders trust? And, most importantly, how do technologies and organizations evolve to measure all of this?

These themes will make up the majority of my research this year (and probably well beyond). I’ll also be looking to broaden my scope to be more global, and will be looking at technologies and use cases in multiple geographies. This becomes extremely interesting when you consider that the topics I’ll be tackling resonate very differently depending on where you stand.

 For example, this recent report by The Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, “Big Data: A European Survey On The Opportunities And Risks Of Data Analytics,” reminds us just how high the bar is for big data analysis in Europe, while highlighting the regional differences that add even more complexity to the mix. And that’s just Europe.

This report from the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion? Understanding the Issues”, lays out guidance for companies on big data research, with an eye toward protecting consumers from bias, disparate impact and a host of other possible harms. And finally, this research paper from danah boyd at Microsoft looks at the Facebook “Emotional Contagion” study to explore what it teaches us about the obligations and realities of academic and commercial research in the digital age.

It’s just three weeks into the year, and I’m frankly excited about all the work to be done. As always, if you have contributions, ideas, or feedback, please share in the comments.

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