Knowledge Prostitution

After a discussion with a client today about privacy and data security in social networking, I started looking at physician portals and came across a fascinating post from Dr. Scott Shreve – Knowledge Prostitution enabling Aggregated Voyeurism: Is this a Business Model?

Voyeurism (voi-yûr’ ĭzəm) n.

1. The practice in which an individual derives pleasure from surreptitiously observing people.

2. Derives from the French verb voir (to see); literal translation is “seer” but with pejorative connotations.

The client told me that they were considering using a closed physicians’ portal to help market their products.  The business model used by closed, advertising-free, doctors portals (Sermo.com in the US or Konsylium24.pl in Poland) involves paying for market intelligence data collected from the “user generated content” in the community.   The tacit assumption is that physicians will talk freely inside a gated, advertising-free community.

Sermo.com kicks some of the revenue back to the users but the precision and recall of this market intelligence is not clear to me, considering the amount of noise in vertical social communities like Sermo and Konsylium24.pl and open social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

What is clear to me – is that there are data security and privacy implications when the community operator data-mines user-generated content for profit.  As a concrete example – a recent thread on Konsylium24.pl went something like this:

Doctor Number 1:

You know – Professor X is the KOL (key opinion leader) for company Y’s drug Z.  He says that drug Z is extremely effective for treating the indications of infectious disease Alpha.

Doctor Number 2:

Of course – Professor X is an acknowledged expert on infectious diseases, but he is also an expert on cash and knows how to do the math and add up the numbers…

I asked my client – “and for this kind of data, your parents sent you to medical school?

This took me back to the days of Firefly, Alexa, Hotbar and use of personal information as currency – collected with “collaborative filtering” and “automated inference” from people browsing the web.

Web 2.0 and social media seems to be going through a similar evolution as Web 1.0 – trying to monetize content by  data aggregation and analysis using “collaborative filtering” techniques.  This may have been a sexy looking business model for Venture Capitalists during the dot.com era, but in 2009 (5 years after Sermo.com launched) and a few months after their well-publicized breakup with the AMA; automated inference, knowledge prostitution and aggregated voyeurism may be  yielding to direct communications between people in B2B communities, social and professional networks.

Why peep through a window when you can just knock on the front door and ask?


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