Charting the Future of Social Data: The Big Boulder Initiative

In June, we launched the Big Boulder Initiative at our annual Big Boulder Conference. The goal of the Initiative is to establish the foundation for the long-term success of the social data industry by addressing the key challenges facing us as an industry. Since that announcement, there’s been a lot going on and it’s time for an update.

This fall, we held small workshops in 4 different cities – New York, Washington DC, Seattle and San Francisco.  The goal of these workshops was to get 15-20 thought leaders together in each city to discuss the future of social data and the challenges we all face in creating the future we believe is possible. The feedback on these sessions has been fantastic. You can check out the video recap below:

Across all of the workshops, we had over 60 participants, representing a range of different perspectives – publishers, brands, solution providers, analysts, public sector, finance and more.  This included companies such as Adobe, Boeing, Disney, Fidelity, Foursquare, General Dynamics, Microsoft, NASDAQ, Nordstrom, NYSE, Palantir, Salesforce, Thomson Reuters, Twitter, and others.

Out of these workshops, it’s clear there’s no lack of challenges or issues to address.  This isn’t surprising given the early nature of the social data industry and is one of the reasons the opportunities are so exciting. Across the workshops, there were six key areas that bubbled up that we agreed should be the highest priority.

  • Privacy, Trust & Regulation

  • ROI & Value

  • Data Access

  • Data Standardization

  • Cost of Data

  • Data Quality & Validity

The participants in each workshop also elected members to a Board of Directors for the Big Boulder Initiative. The Board has 10 members and represents a great cross-section of the industry, with representation from Publishers, Solution Providers, Brands, Analysts, and emerging verticals like Finance and the Public Sector. The Board members are:

  • Carmen Sutter from Adobe

  • Chris Moody from Gnip

  • Damon Cortesi from Simply Measured

  • Jason Gowans from Nordstrom

  • Jason Thomas from Thomson Reuters Special Services

  • Megan Kelley from Fidelity Investments

  • Stu Shulman from Vision Critical

  • Susan Etlinger from Altimeter Group

  • Tom Watson from NYSE

  • Zach Hofer-Shall from Twitter

With the Board in place, the next step is for the Board to meet in the New Year, discuss all of the inputs from the workshops and chart a path forward. I’ll be serving as interim chair until the Board selects the full-time chair and I expect that one of the key points of discussion will be how to ensure that all voices in the industry are heard and have the opportunity to participate.  If you already know you want to be involved, you can go to and put your name on the list to be notified as things move forward.

It’s been great to get the Big Boulder Initiative off the ground and into the hands of such a strong and capable group to drive things forward.  Look another update in Q1 after the Board has met.


The Big Boulder Initiative Launches To Drive The Social Data Industry

Chris Moody, COO of Gnip, kicks off the conference with a talk about the social data ecosystem and introduces the Big Boulder Initiative. 

Chris Moody of Gnip

At the beginning of of Big Boulder, Gnip COO Chris Moody, launched the Big Boulder Initiative — a way for industry leaders “to establish the foundation for the long-term success of the social data industry.”

As Chris noted, Big Boulder isn’t just a group of people coming together but the leaders of social data, one of the most important industries to develop in the last two decades. The attendees consume over 4 billion social data activities every day that ultimately serve 95% of the Fortune 500.

Chris asked attendees for the next two days to leave their titles behind and instead to think of themselves as the leaders of the social data industry. And as leaders they all need to think about where social data is going and how to address our collective challenges/

Big Boulder is only two days out of the year, so the Big Boulder initiative will allow the leaders of the industry to come together multiple times a year.

Chris outlined the five questions the industry is facing, and wants to hear what others are thinking as well. The issues were the following:

  • Return – How do we remove any remaining doubt about the value of social data? There are open-ended questions around consistency, bias and measurement that need to be addressed.

  • Trust – How do we build trust and understanding with the most important people in social media, the content creators?

  • Access – We’re only able to analyze a fraction of the public social data that’s out there. How can we get access to more data to improve our products?

  • Sustainability – How do we convince the world to make long-term investments in an industry that is so new?

  • Costs – How do we manage the growing costs to store, index and serve ever-increasing volumes of data?

For those that weren’t able to attend Big Boulder but want to be involved in shaping industry issues, they can learn more at

Big Boulder is the world’s first social data conference. Follow along at #BigBoulder, on the blog under Big BoulderBig Boulder on Storify and on Gnip’s Facebook page.