Taking Google Earth up a level

Zoe Klee Gemignani yells ’get me down from here’ at the playground

My daughter Zoe, three-year-old amateur scientist, was feeling the limitations of her Blues Clues computer game yesterday. Her game has a science segment where kids can explore the planets. Each planet is presented in cartoon form with three flash cards revealing fun facts.

Three facts just get a kid warmed up. Then, she and I get to play the game of infinite why’s. It’s a good game that anyone can play, young or old.

To satisfy her curiousity and mine, I installed Celestia, "a real-time 3D space simulation featuring a database of over 100000 stars." Anyone who’s a fan of Google Earth should check this out. It brings the same feeling of "OMG, I can see everything, I’m omnipotent!" to the rest of the universe. If you haven’t tried Google Earth, you need to check it out, not every product offers omnipotence, especially for free.

The earth, seen from ten thousand klicks behind the moon

Here’s a sample of Celestia’s universal goodness. This is the earth, as seen from ten thousand kilometers behind the moon.

Now let me drag this conversation, kicking and screaming, into the realm of business analytics and why Juice Analytics exists.

The transcendent experience offered by Google Earth and Celestia--each answered question leading smoothly to another question--represents one way of learning about the world. Blues Clues’ lineup of planet facts represents another. Both are necessary.

Blues Clues: What’s the state of the world as I know it? Goal: condense chaos into a few key facts.

Google Earth: What don’t I know about the world? Goal: make a vast amount of data explorable to all, find new things that you never imagined.

The Google Earth perspective is scarcely represented in business analytics. Showing the world’s data on a map of the Earth is hard, but showing your organization’s data with all its richness may be even harder. Mount Everest will always be there at 27.98055N, 86.93210E. But a business is a slippery thing. Business lines and direction can and must change. Your business’ Mount Everest might be in a completely different place tomorrow.

Dealing with change is one problem; another is justifying the value of exploration versus facts. Hard numbers are how you run your business, how you measure success and compensate for that success. How can you define the value in exploration? We’ve helped clients explore their data and we have always found unexpected customer behaviors that our clients could not have imagined. These are the sorts of things that you can build new business models upon.

Another approach is to spend 15 minutes learning facts about a place (try Scotland). Then spend the same amount of time in Google Earth exploring the same place. Knowing key facts enriches and guides your exploration. But exploring the data opens your mind to new ideas. Imagine if you could do the same thing with your customer data; see it summarized and condensed and explore how customers use your product.

The Google Earth of business analytics doesn’t exist today. Visualizing your business and your customers without flattening the richness of individual behavior is difficult, nearly impossible. But we can at least start by recognizing that something is missing.