Math nerds used to do math. Then, Wall Street started snapping them up to turn them into "quants," who combed market data looking for tradeable trends. Now, Silicon Valley is taking these same brains and applying their skills to consumer data on the Internet, argues Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Ashlee Vance in a probing feature this week. He's even got a name for these new people: Wants.
"At social networking companies, Wants may sit among the computer scientists and engineers, but theirs is the central mission: to poke around in data, hunt for trends, and figure out formulas that will put the right ad in front of the right person," Vance writes. "Wants gauge the personality types of customers, measure their desire for certain products, and discern what will motivate people to act on ads."
Vance's story has a second prong beyond coining her clever new term. He also argues that this technology bubble (if that's what it is) will be different from previous ones because what the Wants are doing isn't fundamentally valuable or extensible. The anti-Want in Vance's narrative is my college friend and Big Data aficionado Jeff Hammerbacher. "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," Hammerbacher told Vance. "That sucks."