The Sharing Game

Sam RansbothamData – it’s not just for engineers anymore. We eat, breathe, sleep, and live in a world of data – a myriad points of information recorded constantly on smartphones and laptops and Fitbits.

For businesses and individuals, all the captured data helps inform decisions – everything from where we eat and what we eat to how to reach our customers and satisfy their demands. When data is shared, it shapes reputations, with the potential to build and to tear down. Research by Professor Sam Ransbotham of Boston College has uncovered how shared data also changes behavior, as he wrote recently for the Boston Globe.

Think of online data sharing as a game, Ransbotham tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “But a game in a good sense,” he emphasizes.

“The presence of data changes our interactions,” Ransbotham explains. “Think about the classic sharing economy case, which is ride-sharing. Historically you would walk into a taxi and take that taxi. The taxi driver would never see you again, and you would never see the taxi driver again. That’s a one-time game… a game where each of us has an incentive to act poorly towards the other person.

“But what happens in the sharing economy that I think is fundamentally different is how it has changed our relationships,” he continues. “What happens now is this game is repeated. You’re not just taking a ride with a ride-sharing service once, you’re probably going to take it multiple times. That creates a history. Meanwhile, that ride-sharing service is going to pick you up several times. Maybe not the same person, but the service will. That creates a history, as well. It’s that history that I think changes things.”

An Associate Professor in the Information Systems department at Boston College, Sam Ransbotham was recently named the guest editor for MIT’s Sloan Management ReviewData and Analytics initiative. In 2009, he received one of eleven inaugural Google and WPP Marketing Awards to support research into how online media influences consumer behavior, attitudes, and decision making.

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