The Impact of Big Data

The New York Times recently published an interesting article, The Age of Big Data, on the topic of the Big Data phenomenon and the opportunities that accompany the surge of information from new sources. In last week’s blog, we noted that a McKinsey Institute Study found that the demand for skilled data analysts will significantly increase, and the article discusses how this is just the beginning of the shift toward the need for more analytical understanding of Big Data.

“It’s a revolution,” says Gary King, director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “We’re really just getting under way. But the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.”

The article examines the many reasons and examples of why Big Data has an influence on fields such as business, government, and economics, and more importantly why decision-making will increasingly be based on data analysis. The article presents a compelling comparison of the impact of big data to the invention of the microscope. Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, explains how the microscope was a dramatic change in measurement by enabling things to be viewed at the cellular level.

Data measurement, Professor Brynjolfsson explains, is the modern equivalent of the microscope. Google searches, Facebook posts and Twitter messages, for example, make it possible to measure behavior and sentiment in fine detail and as it happens.

Along with data measurement, being able to integrate, visualize, and analyze data will be the key to accurate and timely decision-making for organizations tackling Big Data. As we’ve previously discussed on this blog, Big Data has a significant impact on social network behaviors. The article presents a good example of the opportunities that Big Data presents in being able to effectively understand key patterns and relationships in increasing amounts of data from various sources and of different types.

Researchers can see patterns of influence and peaks in communication on a subject — by following trending hashtags on Twitter, for example. The online fishbowl is a window into the real-time behavior of huge numbers of people. “I look for hot spots in the data, an outbreak of activity that I need to understand,” says Jon Kleinberg, a professor at Cornell. “It’s something you can only do with Big Data.”

Overall, the article is a good discussion on the impact of Big Data, with real-world examples of how Big Data is influencing society and business and the effect it has on critical decision-making.


One thought on “The Impact of Big Data

  1. Although “Big Data” is the today’s hot topic in the analytics world, its real value comes from its marriage with “Small Data.” Big Data tells you what happened; Small Data tells you why it happened. Analyzing Big Data may let you identify the ripples in the pool and figure out if they came from a rock or a snake, but Small Data can tell you why the rock was thrown or how hungry the snake is.

    Small Data (a.k.a Qualitative Data) used to be looked down on by the Quant Jocks (no one ever talked about Qual Jocks). But Small Data can be more important than Big Data. Small Data is what you hear when you talk to real people and keep asking “why?” “Why is that better?” “What will that do for you?” “Why is that a problem?” and other questions that add insight and meaning to Big Data. Small Data is what makes the analysis of Big Data actionable.

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