The Buzz of Big Data

Exploring the Currency of the Future

By Aaron Freeze

“I am truly curious who the Internet thinks I am.”

Fellow Onspringer Chris Zammit said this recently and it got me thinking about how the Internet tracks our behavior and what it does with the information it collects. In recent years, big data has become something of a buzzword. Along with other catchphrases—blockchain, cryptocurrency, and a handful of more easily forgotten slogans—big data has quickly become the go-to phrase companies use when they want to shake things up.

By now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “what, exactly, is big data and what does it have to do with Onspring?”

Big data is a phrase that represents an extremely large information set that can be utilized, processed, and computationally analyzed in order to find patterns and material about a gathered set of data as a whole. At a simpler level, it is data that can provide answers to questions. The biggest problem with big data is not where to get it, the answer to that problem is simple—it is the data that already exists, floating ephemerally around in the ether of the Internet. The true problem is figuring out what questions can be asked to get answers from the data. When Geoffrey Moore of Mohr Davidow Ventures said, “Without big data, you are blind and deaf and in the middle of a freeway,” he was speaking figuratively of course, but there is a level of truth to his statement. Big data can answer almost any question; from which parts of a website are the most interesting, to what shoes are the best to wear as a salesperson; from which products sell best in which seasons to what colors work best for a brand; and which issues do customers truly care about if the pertinent information is present. There is an important qualifier that adds an extra layer of difficulty to the issues of big data: whether or not data is pertinent or relevant to the questions that are being asked is as important as the questions themselves.

If what I am looking for is whether or not I need to increase product placement during a particular month of the year, the shoe color of a given sales representative is probably not pertinent. This may seem a ridiculous example, but when looking at that problem with a data set of 500,000,000 records that have 30,000 data points each, from the shoe color of the sales rep to the different tax rates of each state to whether or not the air conditioning was on that day, and the question of data pertinence becomes an overwhelming and daunting task. Data science, the science of processing through these data sets, has progressed quite a bit in the past few years, but with such large data sets reaching conclusions with any degree of certainty is almost out of reach. This intimidating task aside, big data has opened the door to finding answers for some of the hardest and toughest questions that can and will be asked.

Peter Sprenger, Founder and CEO of Techonomy, is quoted saying, “The one who owns the data is the one who controls,” which is reminiscent of the conquerors of old—data, of course, being supplanted for gold or silver or precious gems. However, it holds as true in today’s day and age as did the centuries-old sayings so long ago. Data is the king now—the court wants what it’s due.  Make no mistake, more precious than gold or gems, data is ultimately the currency with which the future is bought.

And now, back to our original question: what does all of this have to do with Onspring? As a tool, Onspring allows for data to flow, and more importantly, for processed data to be utilized in new ways. It can be a tool to gather the data, to present it in new ways that will help to gain a deeper understanding of the information. Onspring is a place to begin the quest to find answers to innumerable questions, and can even be a place for the formulation of some of the questions themselves. Onspring is on the front lines of data analysis, providing the ability to create some of the tools to be used by those who are fighting for information, searching for new forms of understanding.

What is big data? While big data is the popular buzzword of the day, the utilization and analysis of that data are the most important facets of the underlying struggles behind everything that falls under the “big data” umbrella.

And as large as it is, big data is simply the main piece of the puzzle, whatever that puzzle may be.

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