One of my many guilty secrets is that I occasionally like to watch the television show Storage Wars (http://www.aetv.com/storage-wars/). For those not familiar with it, it involves the idea of people bidding on the unknown contents of storage units that have been confiscated by a storage company due to lack of payment by the renters. Each episode opens with a cast of characters who are dramatically shown a storage unit whose lock has just been cut by the auctioneer. The potential buyers are given a few minutes to look at the opening of the container, but are not allowed to look inside or inspect the contents of the container. The characters each have their own personalities; Barry Weiss, the flamboyant collector of arcane artifacts; Jarrod Schultz and Brandi Passante, a husband-and-wife team who fight over whether or not and how much to bid to keep their small business alive; Dave Hester, the disciplined consignment store owner, and several others. The camera shows these characters speculating on the contents of the container, talking to their cohorts about their strategy and intentions for bidding, and sometimes egging each other on. After each auction, the show continues with an overly dramatized picking through the container to see if there are any hidden gems, and follow up as the new owner of the artifacts (and usually junk) seek advice from experts to determine the value of the artifact. A score is provided, comparing the amount the auction winner paid for the contents of the container compared to the estimated potential sale value of the contents. The goal of the participants is to outsmart their competitors and buy materials that can be resold at much higher values. Hence, success on the show depends upon their patience in an auction, knowledge of the true value of “artifacts” and ability to find buyers for the newly purchased items.
I wonder whether this concept will come to cyber-space. As the ever increasing pile of data continues to accumulate on the web, it is inevitable that much or perhaps most of the data will become abandoned. Are there hidden gems in that data heap? Digital treasures might include new technologies that are described but never patented, sensor data that could allow identification of valuable environmental resources, unpublished manuscripts of famous authors, and information that a company or organization already has, but doesn’t know it has (and hence can be “sold” to them). New business opportunities could include meta-data generation (creating data about data), data categorization services, data “search firms”, and data brokering services. One could even develop services to locate and find specific data with an associated “finder’s fee.” It would even feasible to create a service that seeks to rank or rate data and data sources, a sort of Angie’s List for data and data sources.
A large number of opportunities and strategies exist. Think, for example, of how e-Bay created a global yard sale. E-Bay users range from people who simply want to clean out their basement or attic, to yard sale hobbyists who go to yard sales in their local community and subsequently list items of e-Bay, to those who troll e-Bay, looking for undervalued items that they can re-post and sell for a profit. As data becomes more widespread on the internet, such enterprises are bound to happen. It is also interesting to think about data conversion services, software and devices that convert data from floppy disks, 3½ inch diskettes, reel-to-reel tapes, CDs and other devices to become accessible for a user.
I’m sure these enterprises are coming – some are likely to be created by IST students. Shortly thereafter the new TV series, Cyber Storage Wars, will debut, soon to be followed by Data Hoarders!