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DataSift CEO Tim Barker Talks Analytics and Early Computer Games

Tim Barker is newly-appointed CEO of DataSift. He has more than 20 years of experience in the enterprise software market, spanning CRM, collaboration and content management. During his career, Tim founded three successful startups, most recently Koral, a content collaboration startup which was acquired by Salesforce. He holds four patents in the area of on-demand services.

icrunchdata News talks to business leaders in the Big Data and analytics space to learn about what they are currently focused on, explore their career path and talk about their lives outside the office. We recently caught up with Tim to discuss the latest at DataSift, Facebook topic data and a privacy-first approach to human data analytics.

Tim, thank you for speaking with us today. Let’s jump in...

You joined the company in 2011 as Chief Marketing Officer. How did you land the role?

I joined DataSift after leaving my role as Vice President of EMEA Marketing for Salesforce.com Europe. I originally found DataSift, because my friend and co-founder of my previous company – VC Mark Suster introduced me to the company. I then met with Nick Halstead (Founder) and decided to join DataSift because I was intrigued by the human-generated data problem that the company was trying to solve. DataSift was – and still is – focused on how to capture, analyze and derive useful information from billions of social media posts, articles, blogs and more. Today, organizations need to derive actionable intelligence from human-generated data – data is there to answer questions and solve business issues.

How has your role evolved this past year?

My five years at Salesforce.com gave me the opportunity to see just how much social media was transforming the enterprise – even in the early days – and what a core part of business operations it was becoming. After a stint as DataSift’s Chief Marketing Officer, I transitioned to the role of Chief Product Officer, allowing me to focus on product and market strategy. This past month, I was appointed as Chief Executive Officer and plan to help the company continue to strengthen and shape the social analytics industry. We’ve come a long way from social media being used by PR teams to simply measure social sentiment around their company. While this is a worthy “social 101” use case, the opportunities to leverage this data for strategic decisions are much bigger. Whether it’s TV producers using data for casting decisions, or brands using insight to shape their marketing strategy, human-generated data has a bigger role to play in business. To solve this, we as an industry need to move from passive reports and dashboards, to “active intelligence” to provide proactive discovery of interesting, impactful, or emerging trends and insights.

Currently, we know DataSift as the only independent provider of real-time social, blog, news and web data. Paint a picture of its history.

DataSift was actually created out of a series of events that charted the evolution of the social media industry. First, there was fav.or.it, which tracked “social signals” - explicit “liking” and implicit data about time viewing articles - to rank popularity of content. This data was then fed back into algorithms on what content to share with other users. With the growing popularity of Twitter, this technology turned into TweetMeme, which led to the Retweet button. TweetMeme then exchanged the Retweet button for access to Twitter’s firehose of data. Nick Halstead, DataSift’s founder, then made a decision to build the ultimate engine for programmatically understanding what is being said within social data streams. That engine today is DataSift. DataSift now has a unique position in the social industry. As the strategic partner to more than 20 social networks – including Facebook – we work with an ecosystem of application builders and agencies that are building products to enable data-driven businesses to make better, faster decisions.

What’s been a win for you recently?

We now have some very well-known customers doing truly ground-breaking work using PYLON for Facebook Topic Data. Facebook topic data is anonymous and aggregated content data about specific activities, events, brand names and other subjects that people are sharing on the world’s largest social platform. Whether it’s driving the creative decisions on TV shows, transforming companies’ advertising strategies or helping global brands with reputation management, Facebook topic data is a game-changer. Many of these use cases aren’t public just yet, but we’re excited to start telling the industry more about what is possible with this technology in the near future.

Would you say it's the most defining moment of your career thus far?

The partnership with Facebook is pretty high up there as it’s the biggest source of public opinion data on Earth. PYLON for Facebook topic data is a completely new model for extracting value from social data, which protects people’s privacy and at the same time enables businesses to gain a more in-depth understanding of their target audience.

What’s a simple fact you wish more people understood about data analytics?

There certainly needs to be more awareness of the fact that human data analytics does not have to contain personally identifiable information (PII) in order to create valuable insights. A privacy-first approach to human data analytics is good for everyone. By keeping consumer interests top-of-mind, offering strong privacy defaults and empowering user-friendly options, businesses can build trusted consumer relationships. At the same time, anonymized and aggregated data – like Facebook topic data – enables businesses to gain more in-depth, market-level insights. For example, companies can gain a greater understanding of their key audience - gender, age, what they’re engaging around, and more – in a privacy-safe way.

Looking toward 2016, what intrigues you most about where smart data is heading?

For 2016, I think from my perspective it’s the fact that we’ll see a shift away from discussions about data for the sake of data and towards how to get actionable insights from data. The focus should be on how to compute the data - how to analyze it. I’m excited about the growing emphasis around deep learning and how the data creates significant and useful insights for businesses.

So, how would you describe the future of the data marketplace in one word?

Actionable

Great word choice. At this point, what do you perceive as a downside of our digital, data-driven world?

I’d say the misunderstandings that surround a privacy-first approach to data. Fostering consumer trust does not mean that businesses need to reject the opportunities to improve marketing efficiency, new product development and market research that human-generated data intelligence presents. Many market-level, big insights can be garnered without having to process PII. Personal-level, small insights from consumers can be gained through opt-in. Social logins have become standard, with everyone from Airbnb to American Express allowing users to quickly register and log in with their existing social identities, such as Facebook, Google or Twitter. The small insights that can be derived from this data enable better personalization, product recommendation and a better user experience. The keyword here is permission. The consumer needs to be in control about whether they share their data.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

At age 14, I started the Netflix of its day for computer games. At the time, computer games were expensive and hard to come by, so I started a rental business for Commodore 64 video games. I would advertise to teens and built an inventory of games, including Alien and Pac-Man. It was all mail order and you could rent for a week or so. The pocket money I made from this company actually helped me buy my first computer in college.

Is there something new you’d like to try in the near future?

It’s an ambition of mine, one day, to get my pilots license. I’ve done enough travelling as a passenger; I’d love a chance to fly myself.

What’s your next adventure outside the office?

I’ll be flying and travelling for the next few weeks to see customers, employees and help close our quarter. Getting in front of customers is critical for me to keep in touch with the market.

Is there a quote you live by?

“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” - William Gibson

We're interested to see the upcoming impacts of your and DataSift's efforts. Thanks again, Tim, for sharing insights with our audience. Until next time.

Article published by Anna Hill
Image credit by DataSift
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