Big Data - BBC Cartoon

Early Big Data Explorations at the BBC Cartoon

The Big Deal about Big Data

If you’re tired of fiddling with your new smartphone and are looking for the next big thing to tinker with, then you need look no further than Big Data. Wonkie’s think tank predicts that Big Data will revolutionise both industries and individual lives, in the space of a few years if used smartly.

What is Big Data?

Jargon aside, one can think of Big Data as essentially an enormous amount of information about something specific. It could be anything from social media data like billions of Facebook updates, to detailed sensor information about how particles behave in the Large Hadron Collider.

Unless of course you’re some big tech company that needs to boast that your centres can store x exabytes of data, the raw data itself is not all that interesting. In fact, data warehousing is a buzzword that’s over a decade old now. What is interesting is what secrets and patterns the data can reveal.

Data Analytics

With the exception of a few companies, like Amazon, who have proven themselves as being quite effective in terms of using customer data to increase sales, most corporates are still relatively useless at it. This is despite spending a considerable sum on data warehousing infrastructure, software, and business intelligence consultants.

The challenge is that with so much information, it is difficult to know where to start. Unfortunately, few companies have Chief Information Officers with strong Operational Research and Statistics backgrounds yet. Instead, they have shoveled off the analytics to some technology-related department, which typically still lacks the business acumen to figure out how best the data can be used to generate value.

To make good use of data, one needs solid research skills. One needs to understand how to formulate hypotheses, and how to properly use statistics to either validate or refute those hypotheses.

How useful is Big Data?

In the right hands, Big Data can change the world. Imagine for a moment, having the ability to validate some of the following hypotheses:

1. Is Friday the 13th really unlucky for most people?

2. Are all Capricorns stubborn, or is just my wife?

3. Do people generally get crankier on a full moon?

4. Are people happier if they have more Twitter followers?

5. Do most people hate their jobs?

In all seriousness, and forgetting about privacy issues for a moment, analysing a huge volume of information about moods, behaviour, physical well-being, and the like on specific demographic segments can yield very interesting insights. Wonkie does not care much about it from the commercial perspective – the real potential of Big Data is to help people better understand the mechanics of how people work.

The visionaries that know what hypotheses will yield the most valuable insights, will be the winners in the Big Data world.

COMMENT on Big Data, privacy, and your future predictions.

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Vaguely related articles on technology, and statistics:

  1. Crime statistics
  2. Fifa Technology

COMMENT on Big Data, privacy, and your future predictions

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  1. Didn’t even know there was such a thing as “Big Data” – thanks Wonkie!

    It’s quite scary to think that some company will have access to so much data about individuals – I’m sure there is a lot of potential for good, but somehow I doubt that will be the priority.

  2. Big Brother says

    Yes, all you Wonkie readers that are posting comments against the ANC – we are watching you. Mwahahaha!

    Have to agree with Ramatula. While there may be quite a lot of benefit to Big Data, I can’t see organisations using it for any more than cheap marketing. If they’re smart, maybe the spam will reduce a little… sorry, can see the potential but not optimistic about it.

  3. Who cares who knows what about me, it is useless anyway, so this people have so much time analyzing us while we go on with our life.
    They must be very bitter. ooh, and thanks wonkie, you have so much data about us the bloggers, you also waist time analysing what we like to hear. get a life.

  4. The use of big data is simply the massive calculations of statistics that are so big that they can only be calculated on a computer. That does not mean they are correct but their assumptions can be dangerous. For example furniture retailers assume that an increase in weddings means that more people (young couples) will buy more refrigerators, more furniture and double beds. A decrease means that there will be an increase in beer sales. Hospitals will increase their planning for more maternity wards except in SA, the powers that be do not understand this and assume that the hospitals can cope without sufficient medicine, beds or trained staff. There will also be an increase in rugby attendance and ticket sales until they put the price up so that they cannot afford them any more, assuming the wife allows him to watch rugby. Because he cant watch rugby (soccer, cricket, or anything with a random outcome such as most sport (unless its rigged)). While you may assume that this is bullshit just remember that statistics are like a bikini, what they reveal is interesting, what they hide is vital.

  5. Big brother, the ANC are not watching you or me or anyone else, firstly they would not know what to do withe information (if any) and secondly they are too busy setting up tolls that will bankrupt the Gauteng government (they are already morally bankrupt.)

  6. OutofAfrica says

    And with an EMP all the useless (and useful) data will disappear in an instant!

  7. Nigerial already has this Big Data thing by the emails I am getting because Big Data knows about this massive payout I have received, which is lying in a bank in the UK, and someone in Braamfontein has already laid claim to it if I don’t reply with all my details proving who I am, within 3 days. Another attachment, a zip file nogal, 435kb nogal, is waiting for me to open it so that I can fast track my claim. Soooo….. Big Data serves the interest of the Big Boys in the syndicate business, waiting for potential “suckers” like me.

  8. I felt really weird configuring Windows 8 for the first time recently…yea I’m having fun with it and my new Sony ultra book but somehow I feel now Microsoft has access too all my Internet life ever! But then I figured not only mines they have so won’t matter unless I become famous or infamous!:)

  9. Corny, why do you want to destroy a perfect business opportunity from a Nigerian entrepreneur.

    • a-maize-ingly-corny says

      The Nigerian “entrepreneur” is the “someone” in Braamfontein and I’m NOT. Why can’t I get a bit of that “luck”?
      Now I’m thinking wishfully!
      To have that kind of “luck” all my deepest, darkest secrets have to be stored in some “hack-proof” database that can be opened and accessed by a baby with a nappy pin. (Do people have shallow, light secrets?)
      Seriously though, Whether you have 10 Rand or 10 Billion Rand in the bank you don’t want it stolen. All of this data collected about a person can be (criminally) hacked and can lead to a situation where those of evil intent can ruin or bankrupt a person.
      Do we need to know that Angelina Jolie has a kept man at 1008 Albert Schweitzer Street in Palm Springs? or that Al Gore collects cow dung for his mini factory producing methane gas to fuel his cooking range and his domestic heaters? or that Barack Obama cannot get the ball to knock down the skittles in his private bowling alley under the White House? – NO – but we DO need to know what information these “Big Data” “units” are collecting about us.
      All the big players in the communications industry collect data – telephone numbers called – web-sites visited – e-mail addresses stored and used – subjects “researched” – etc., etc., etc. They all publish “privacy policies”. But none of them tell us WHAT they pass on and TO WHOM they pass it on – all under the coercion of legislation which the public knew nothing about – legislation passed in America but which actually governs us in South Africa whenever we link up to some organisation based in America – and, because it is American legislation, WE have absolutely no say in the matter. WE have no say in what information can be collected. WE have no say in how it can be stored. WE have no say in how it can be used. WE are the disenfranchised ones of the modern era.

      Sorry Garth – I know you were just talking sh*t but you truly FLUSHED out some of my deepest feelings about this whole sorry nonsense controlling our world and our freedoms – I didn’t mean to bore you with such a long RANT!

  10. Not only do the NSA collect every bit of useless data they can and do make mistakes (gross errors) in their interpretation of that data. For instance they believed (or were lied to) that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, now their country is being mass destroyed and who knows how many dead and injured. Afghanistan was invaded so the Yanks could get Bin Laden, why not simply ask for extradition (of course that doesn’t always work if you look at attempts to get Assange, Snowden, etc) Instead they destroy an already fucked up country and anyway he was in Pakistan. Their latest fubar and its still ongoing is supplying the rebels to over throw a somewhat legitimate government and now they discover the rebels are Al Queda. They have been having a go at Iran since they overthrew a legitimate elected government in 1953. Thew support a criminal regime in Israel that is systematically stealing land from the Palestinians. They put drones into the sky to kill suspected terrorists and kill more civilians. The NSA is not doing such a good job.

  11. I meant to say a somewnat legitimate government in Syria. But you know that already.

  12. Hasn’t this been happening for a while now? Actuaries do this for a living. The only relevance I can see is that it may make their job easier or redundant.
    Same goes for people in marketing (seriously they need to ‘invent’ the word marketeers, so much easier). Field research can now be done in front a computer and not on the ‘field’. In other words the field has moved from out there to online.
    All of this is to say that as disillusioned as we may be our constitution and our rights held therein they still exist and are protected.

  13. Thami, what are you on about.

    • Putting a new label on something and calling it revolutionary doesn’t make it so. Data analysis is all it is. The fact that it’s now all in one place is the only thing ‘revolutionary’ about it. The fact that there is so much more available only makes it easier to find trends, but trends is all it is.
      The second point is that we are still some distance away from Orwell’s Big Brother even with this Big Data. Even if the government started keeping tabs on everyone there’s not much they can do without infringing on your rights. The conspiracy theories about governments using data they collect online is just that, a conspiracy theory. And it belongs in the movies.

  14. There is no doubt that Big data can answer a lot of questions that have eluded mankind for years but it makes absolutely no sense until it is analysed and put into established patterns where one is capable of drawing inferences from it.

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