Demystifying Big Data

If you hear the phrase “big data,” do your eyes glaze over? Does your heart race?

They shouldn’t, at least not according to Scott Hicks, senior director of Data Strategy for Snag a Job, which connects workers with hourly jobs and employers with hourly workers. He recently spoke about demystifying big data.

“It’s less about the size of data and more about our ability to quickly analyze it,” he said. Thanks to mobile and social platforms, it’s easier and faster than ever to be able to do so. The other impact on big data is storage costs. Back in 1980 a gigabyte of data cost $193,000 to store. Today Hicks said, it’s 2-cents!

The result is that data is constantly being collected, analyzed and shared.  In fact, 90 percent of the data in the world has been created in the last two years, Hicks said.

He shared a quote from American biologist, researcher and theorist E. O. Wilson, who said. “We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

As for privacy, Hicks said not to worry. The data collectors “don’t care about you as a person individually, it’s the collective.”

If you don’t want your data collected, you could opt out by not having a cell phone or not going online, but you would miss the advantages. “You could live in the woods off the grid, but you would miss the kitten videos,” Hicks said with a laugh.

So much big data exists today for a few reasons. One is that researchers no longer have to do statistical sampling to deal with large sets of data. Accuracy is better, and segmentation capability has increased. Today’s systems also provide the “perfect means of testing new products, messaging and positioning,” Hicks noted. This leads to mass customization and recommendation engines.

Today big data is trying to be wrong less often, Hicks said.

The result is that users of big data have access to sentiment analysis and are able to test product positioning and messaging. Other uses include isolating and targeting key influencers and measuring the impact of paid placement versus earned media.

Despite privacy concerns, Hicks said that most companies are not going to misuse the data they collect. “When you misuse data,” he said, “customers become less likely to share it.”

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