A view from Mark Cridge

Perspective: We're sitting on a digital gold mine, so let's go prospecting

What does Google and a huge mound of slag in Africa have in common?

Just outside the city of Lubumbashi in the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo lies an enormous slagheap, created from the end process of the local copper-mining industry. The copper that was initially extracted was valuable in its own right, even though most of that wealth has already been frittered away and forgotten. What's being discovered now is that the real value lies in what has been built up over time. Of the 14.5 million tonnes of waste, almost 2 per cent of it is made up of cobalt, an essential element in everything from jet engines to lithium mobile phone batteries. There are billions of dollars of wealth just sitting there waiting to be reclaimed.

Google, of course, has already created an insane amount of wealth through its core business of search, sucking in billions of dollars of revenue in a process that has transformed the whole business of advertising. The data that has been collected and built up over the past decade or so is sitting there, growing every day, but largely untapped, waiting to be exploited.

Up until now, this has largely been the domain of media and search agencies, more comfortable with the grubby business of numbers and statistics. However, Google has begun to court more directly the creative side of our business, most recently at the Google Jam event (see page 11), where it sought to help those delicate creative types take a few baby steps towards getting down and dirty with the data.

We'll already be familiar with mash-ups of houses for sale or crime data overlaid on to Google Maps, and we'll all happily quote YouTube views as a pretty good measure of success for our latest TV ad as viral. What's happening now, though, is an order of magnitude more ambitious. An active push to encourage a multitude of ways to tunnel into and uncover nuggets of buried insight through historical data, and providing open APIs for every conceivable aspect of Google's activities. From free language translation that gets better with every use, to powerful tools for planners to back up audience insights and get a better handle on real-world behaviours.

Without wanting to be a cheerleader for Google, this is a microcosm of where the digital industry has got itself to today. The pace of change remains as fast as ever, but as technologies have converged and matured, we no longer have to build everything from scratch. Less defined by technical novelty, we're blessed with a wealth of experience and knowledge upon which we can draw, revisit and build. Freer perhaps to let creative talent, ideas and thinking flourish and distinguish themselves, and hopefully uncover some buried treasure along the way.

- Mark Cridge is the global managing director of Isobar.

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