Open data, open brands

You can’t get ahead in this day and age if you don’t make some commitment to sharing your data with those who want to help. They will only make your life easier. And in a world where collaboration is becoming more and more important, it is silly for brands not to do so.

This was the message I took away from a panel discussion hosted by Federated Media, Boing Boing and Team Detroit yesterday. They spoke about what went down at Boing Boing’s Ingenuity hackathon last August, where more than 300 developers came together to hack Ford’s car data to create cool things, like a cost of driving meter that tracks how much you’re spending on individual car trips, and a back window car display that reflects on the outside some of the activity that goes on inside the car to give drivers around more perspective, such as a ‘thanks’ graphic when someone allows you to merge with another lane. A money quote there: ‘turn signals are the facial expression of automobiles’.


David Pescovitz, one of the founders of Boing Boing made the point repeatedly that they were very impressed when the client actually insisted that the output of the hackathon be open-source. Too many clients want proprietary ownership of anything that is done with their data, and apart from being unnecessary it actually results in shooting yourself in the foot. Another interesting point that was made by the panel was that by giving up their data for others to use, Ford can actually now focus on making their products better instead of spending all their time and energy on cranking cars out of the factory and monitoring that process. I saw a tweet emanating from another SXSW session where this point was made in a different way; I think it was Gary Vaynerchuk who said ‘Billion dollar brands worrying about 1 bad tweet ridiculous. Worry about piece of shit products not tweets’.

The best way to think about what we do today is to place ourselves as players on a hackable platform; i.e the world, as Mark Frauenfelder from Boing Boing said. Everything we do and say can and will be hacked by Grumpy Cat or Nyan Cat – or people who are not cats but have a lot of cognitive surplus, as Clay Shirky calls it. Team Detroit, essentially an agency, basically said that to reach out to old and new audiences for Ford, TV ads wouldn’t cut it anymore. By allowing fair use of their data, they get cool things to be made and used by influencers like Boing Boing and their network of fans who share their ‘skewed view on the world’ tapping into that oldest form of advertising, word of mouth, ‘the oldest kind of advertising in the world. People like to use things that people they like use.’

Onward and upward. Hump day down, two more to go.

To see live photos of SXSW view PHD’s Pinterest page.

Anjali Ramachandran is the Head of Innovation at PHD UK. Follow @anjali28


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