Analog's Last Bastion
Almost everything is digital. It started with simple stuff, like calculators, watches and measurements, and now the digital revolution totally owns cable television, video, music and photography. But there's still one huge pile of valuable information that has yet to be captured and digitized: our conversations. The conversations we have with other humans are one of -- if not the -- most valuable piles of information in the world. Far more valuable than video content (how much is taped versus just spoken?) or written content (how much information is actually written down versus simply spoken?) This information is not just valuable in the aggregate, but it is specifically valuable to the individual. If I were to have an easily searchable log of all my conversations, my productivity would increase by at least a third. Followups would be easier. Business opportunities wouldn't drop by the wayside. I would pay good money for this.
The technology (lapel microphone, a mechanism to transmit streaming audio to a hard drive or the web, speech-to-text, search) is all out there in some form. Sure, some conversations -- such as those in bars or on airplanes -- would be lost. And I'd have to spend 5 to 10 minutes every evening tagging specific conversations with my contacts so I know who said what. (And perhaps with an evolution of technology, the app would learn to associate certain voices with certain contacts.) But the value proposition to the end user is huge. This is going to happen; it's simply a matter of when and who does it.
There are a laundry list of potential uses. Some of them, privacy concerns notwithstanding:
- Early identification of "trending topics", with particular relevance in finance - Vastly improved real-time ad targeting. Possibly bigger than web search. - A real-time gauge of public opinion and beliefs, with particular relevance to politics and brands - A great data set to test theories of human interaction and sociology "in the wild"
That said, I'm not totally sure how this should be priced. On one hand, I am willing to pay upwards of $50 a month for a service like this -- assuming I own the conversations and they won't be used to serve me ads or packaged and re-sold to hedge funds. But I'm not sure this is the best revenue model; the business may be much more profitable by giving the voice-capturing service away for free and leveraging the aggregate data. What if Google had charged users a monthly fee in 1999?
Regardless of how it's done, this is going to happen. It simply isn't sustainable that the largest and most valuable medium of information in the world isn't being captured.