Big Data is HUGE [but still small]

June 20th, 2013  by Anna Starasts    No Comments    Tags: , , ,

Recap of The Next Big Thing: Data with Nora Young.

What is big data? It’s a good question, and one that Nora Young attempted to answer at Girl Geeks Toronto on June 10th. It’s particularly pertinent coming, as it does, as details of the US National Security Agency’s PRISM homeland surveillance program that is reported to have screened countless telephone calls, web searches, page views and private data, started to surface in the preceding days.

The truth is, said Young, that Big Data doesn’t have to be all that big. It’s anything that helps a user – whether an individual or a corporation – to learn more about themselves or their customers. Big Data is more about potential to collect and analyse data than it is about large data sets – and include everything from somebody wearing a Nike Fuel Band to track their health and wellbeing, to people that are addicted to taking ‘selfies’ and posting them to their social network of choice and corporations like Walmart, that process about 10 million transactions per day, using sales data to improve their internal processes, predict future sales trends or offer customers promotional offers on products they buy regularly.

Nora Young presenting

But, if we think data is big now, Big Data is only going to get bigger, said Young. An increasing proliferation of devices – the internet of things – all increasingly connected to a network and with the capacity to collect and store information – providing an increasing number of ways for users to collect contextually specific data, share it with our digital [social] networks, and make changes to our day-to-day to improve quality of life. But, said Nora Young, while a set of bathroom scales that sends your weight to an app via wi-fi isn’t necessarily seen as a good thing by some, Young says that Big Data collected anonymously, with permission, from our smartphones and mobile devices could play a significant role in social programs to improve health and wellbeing en mass, or improve life in cities like Toronto. Big Data could be huge in helping provide insight in to problems like congestion – a topic of much discussion in the city right now.

Big Data is also something that can help cities in developing nations to increase their rate of growth.

Nora Young presenting at Girl Geeks Toronto

One of the biggest challenges facing Big Data, said Young, was how it is collected and used – and the impact it has on individual privacy. Having watched the PRISM story develop, I’m not sure that this is as big an issue as many expect. We give our data willingly [and sometimes unwittingly] to search firms and social networks by the gigabyte every day without giving it a second thought so that they can sell it to advertisers who then fill our streams with sponsored posts and promoted tweets. If the various agencies collecting anonymous data [anonymous to everybody except the ISP] can provide a compelling benefit for using our information, I’m sure most would gladly share it.

Big Data is huge.. and it’s only going to get bigger!

Lyndon JohnsonLyndon is a recovering broadcaster turned public relations and marketing strategist. He’s CEO of THINK DIFFERENT[LY], a company that offers entrepreneurs an alternative to the traditional retainer model. He can be contacted at lyndon @ and tweets as @THINK_Lyndon

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