In definitional terms, big data is, as we are repeatedly told, a matter of volume, velocity, variety and sometimes veracity. But perhaps as a result of a fifth v, the vagueness of this definition, those discussing the present and future impact of big data on society routinely describe big data more figuratively and evocatively. Often, this metaphorical definition takes the form of a liquid. Streams of big data flow andcascade between – and sometimes leak from – organisations. Continue reading “Big Data: the New Water or the New Oil?”→
The past fortnight saw the first ripples of reaction to the European Court of Justice’s assertion of a citizen’s ‘right to be forgotten’ online. Following the court’s ruling, Google began the implementation of a process whereby individuals can petition for the removal of links in search results to pages deemed objectionable.
One of the early discussions emerging at our ‘Big Data for Social Change’ at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio surrounds how the act of capturing of big data impinges on our understanding of it. There are three strands in particular which have been flagged up. Firstly, who does the counting? As Marc Ventresca has showed, the shift from ecclesiastical to secular authority in the collection of data affected perceptions of society, for example shifting the focus to the individual from the collective. The national census is not an impassive, aloof process but rather a culturally and politically significant object, reflecting and reinforcing societal debate and conflict. This significance is reflected in the 1918 observation that, “the science of statistics is the chief instrumentality through which the progress of civilization is now measured, and by which its development hereafter will be largely controlled”.Continue reading “Big Data in Bellagio: who counts, what counts, and how do we count?”→
During the construction of a jigsaw or model, there is invariably a moment in which one’s perception shifts from the level of ‘parts’ to the level of ‘whole’ – when, as it were, the bigger picture becomes clear. (Presumably the German language offers an elegant compound noun for this, but I am yet to come across it.) Since its ascension from first appearance to its current perch at the peak of inflated expectations, big data as a phenomenon has seemed to operate primarily on the level of parts or pieces. These usually take the form of noteworthy findings from or utilisations of big data that are eye-opening for one reason or another. Continue reading “Piecing Together the Value of Big Data”→
“What social data can tell you: pretty much everything” proclaimed Azeem Azhar, founder of PeerIndex, in a popular post on LinkedIn earlier this week. We can perhaps forgive Azhar the hyperbolic lead-in, but hisarticle as a whole indulges in untrammeled evangelism for social data which obscures much of the nuance and uncertainty regarding what exactly this new source of data can actually tell us about society. Continue reading “Why social data isn’t always a reliable indicator”→
“Like Noah’s ark, (there was) every kind of creature in every walk of life. They included a town wit, a grave citizen, a worthy lawyer, a worship justice, a reverend nonconformist, and a voluble sailor.”
The above description comes from a history of English coffee houses in the seventeenth century¹, but might just as well apply to the twenty first century’s sites of caffeinated conversation: online social networks. With the rapid uptake of the Internet and the more recent rise to prominence of social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of millions of ordinary people – the witty, the worthy, and the decidedly neither – are now connected not only to the web, a source of news, but also to social networks, a source of views. Continue reading ““Twitter says…” – Can big social data tell us about public opinion?”→
To Google Campus in east London to hear what a number of practitioners thought were the most controversial questions surrounding the use and abuse of big data. After a couple of lightning pitches from big data startups (if you dream of using augmented reality to make your exercise regime more exciting, you’ll be in luck when Google Glass is released) the event moved into a wide ranging panel discussion with participants including journalist Paul Bradshaw, Daniel Hulme, founder of Satalia and Duncan Ross, Director of Data Science at Teradata. The event was billed as tackling the controversial questions over big data, and the panelists got right down to business, eschewing talk of big data’s big potential in favour of honest reflection about the darker side of the data revolution. Continue reading “Big Data’s People Problem”→