Data increases in value the more it is connected

Gavin Starks
3 min readSep 7, 2018


Rather than data being the ‘new oil’, we should think instead of data as infrastructure.

Here’s a simple framing that I hope will help.

  • Our physical infrastructure underpins our goods economy
  • Our internet infrastructure underpins our digital economy
  • Our data infrastructure underpins our knowledge economy

I use the word economy deliberately. It doesn’t matter if you can list non-economic benefits, no one pays attention (at-scale) unless there is an economic impact.

In addition, we need to finally, properly embrace thinking of our economy as far more than ‘financial’. Our knowledge economy is where we can deliver triple-bottom-line thinking. It’s where we can make better longitudinal decisions.

It’s where open data destroys [the need for] CSR.

We also need to address the actual data economics of a global marketplace: should we define import, export, GDP (Gross D̶o̶m̶e̶s̶t̶i̶c̶ Data Product)?

We are very, very far away from this. I’ve been to countless meetings where blind faith in technology-for-technology’s sake (e.g. “let’s collect all the big data”) is still seen as some kind of unquestionable good: that because we have the tech, that somehow the problem is solved and magic money will fall from the sky. This is deeply broken — anyone with any power to act to connect people to impact needs to do so; today.

Data that isn’t connected is valueless.

My trend-watching often starts with how the web has impacted media (publishing, music, radio, TV). There are many useful lessons in those domains. There was a time when record labels were terrified of putting their goods online—precisely because of the power of the web’s connectedness. The air-gap was working out how to create sustainable economic modes — it’s been a bumpy ride, but now the industry thrives on the very thing it was terrified of.

When we think about what the new 47% of jobs might be we can draw on stories from the past: lamplighters, worried that electric lights would make them redundant, didn’t foresee … television. I met my first professional drone pilot recently: he was a seven-year veteran, aged 15.

Over the last 25-years of developing web businesses I’ve experienced countless examples of people expecting that ‘old models of thinking’ will translate into the future: “it’ll be okay” they say. We know that there is no such thing as ‘too big to fail’ online.

And while there is always merit in learning from history, thinking that old economic models from the industrial age will translate is highly unlikely (far smarter people than I are saying similar things).

Now is not the same as before. It’s not the same as pre-web.

There are more people online today than existed when I was born.

It’s also not the same as ‘post-web’. We have not only connected people, we are giving everyone access to tools and skills that were highly limited, or indeed, restricted.

And now, to quote EFF, the threat model has changed. We need to go much further than ‘just’ do no harm (even if this perspective is spot on here as well).

We can learn from history that we had similar technocratic utopian visions for TV and Radio.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend Dreams Rewired — one of the most important and timely pieces of film I’ve seen in a long time…