Data Deluge and a Startup's Glassdoor

Yesterday was one of those days when I was dragging my feet, mostly because I stayed up way past my bedtime for the launch of NewTeeVee Station and then woke up at my usual time — before sunrise. The foggy state of my brain reinforced how necessary sleep is for connecting the dots and being productive.

With the sun shining brightly, a walk along the Embarcadero to the office seemed like the perfect antidote. As Celine Roque writes on WebWorkerDaily, “Being exposed to images, sounds, and people that we don’t encounter on our daily routines can give us a fresh perspective we never would’ve gotten otherwise.”

I agree, and my walk got me ready for a spirited discussion with my good friend Pip Coburn, who was previously the technology strategist at UBS but now runs his own research and money management shop. His business is based in New York, but his company is as virtual as any, which in my book makes him a perfect web worker. He hadn’t seen me since before my heart attack, and wanted to catch up. And so did I. Why? Because Pip has the unique ability to look beyond the obvious. Our discussions almost never focus on corporate minutiae; we talk about the philosophy of technology instead.

As we sat and enjoyed the rare San Francisco warmth, we contemplated the issue of data deluge, whether it be from blogs, news outlets, Twitter or FriendFeed. We’re confusing noise with information, and information with useful information, he said (and I paraphrase), and he urged me to focus GigaOM on being not just another information resource but an actionable wisdom resource.

The conclusion of our chat — it’s not data that’s important but what you do with it — carried into my next meeting, with Robert Hohman, co-founder of Glassdoor.com, an online resource for job hunters to get accurate reviews of the companies they want to join

Glassdoor.com, which launched today, is like Epinions for the job market with the rating features of TheFunded added in. Hohman’s co-founders include Rich Barton (founder of Expedia and co-founder and CEO of Zillow) and Tim Besse (also previously of Expedia). The Sausalito-based company is funded to the tune of $3 million by Benchmark Capital, the same firm that backed Zillow (and where one ex-Epinions guy is an EIR).

As it stands, I think Glassdoor has an interesting yet marginal opportunity. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t intrigued by the idea behind Glassdoor, and what it could eventually offer by analyzing its data in a more meaningful way. I asked Robert if we could take the information he has collected and put it to use. For example, to answer the question: What kind of a relation is there between the CEO’s rating by his employees and his company’s market performance? Robert was kind enough to run a little analysis, and indeed, despite the low input data, in the computer hardware sector there is “clearly a correlation between overall company rating, CEO approval rating and the price/earnings” ratio of the stock.

Obviously a lot more data is needed to get a sharper image of the overall trend, but it makes sense: Loyal and happy employees work harder, make a company better and thus increase shareholder value. This was actionable wisdom out of pure data. I also harangued Robert about his co-founder Barton’s other company, Zillow, and how it missed a huge opportunity to use its data to warn people of the mortgage crisis.

I think a lot of companies are failing to use the incredible resources of data that we have at our disposal with the Internet. I blame this on the marginality of ambition. Even Google, the number nerd’s utopia, as reflected by this post seems to be missing the opportunity to put its data to work. Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as some startups are beginning to take notice.

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