The internet has transformed how we live, function, operate businesses and even how governments function. The web has been and is changing dramatically the way we communicate, share information, collect it and comprehend it. It’s safe to say in this day and age, there is much more information floating around than ever before. This information called, big data, is revolutionizing the way we transmit ideas through the trends of social media and mobile technology. Big data is being generated from virtually everywhere in which you engage through a digital transaction, including social media posts, videos, purchase transactions, online applications, digital images and much more. Big data is accumulating at an increasingly rapid rate according to the velocity, volume and variety of the data. Data analysts are using this information to predict and determine everything from the exact way you shop to the methodology you use to make purchasing decisions.
Big data is so vast, that there are many ways of defining what is qualified as big data. There are two major differences in the type of data which is collected. Unstructured data comes from information which can’t be organized or studied in a traditional matter. This includes social media posts/comments and Twitter tweets. Multi-structured data on the other hand refers to data formats collected through websites, applications, and transactional data, such as point-of-sale or customer purchase history. These data gateways take information and transform the way we communicate in order to answer key questions, such as:
- How we are marketed to on a regular basis?
- What are our purchasing preferences?
- How to improve customer satisfaction?
The three V’s – velocity, volume and variety, are commonly used to characterize the different aspects of big data and how it is analyzed. Volume represents how growing data streams are stored, and how much of it is filtered and considered ‘big data’. Due to massive amounts of data being collected, it’s becoming quite difficult to search through data which can be deemed as ‘useful’, especially at the speed at which it comes in.
The next aspect of collecting data is velocity. Velocity measures the increasing rate at which the data is dispersed and then analyzed. The internet and mobile technology have made it easy for consumers to acquire goods. Data velocity is helping businesses thrive, in that online retailers are able to gather quite a bit of information about their customers, study their every click, purchase, and interaction. This enables businesses to act faster and make intelligent recommendations to consumers, or even cater better to their customer’s growing preferences or demands. However, the uncontrollable velocity at which data is shared has also become an increasingly difficult factor of analyzing it properly.
Variety is the last way by which data is classified. Data streams come in all types of formats. Structured, as we mentioned above and unstructured. It comes in many forms, such as text, web, email, video, etc. It can be messy to sort and with big data growing at its current rate, it’s becoming difficult to control and manage all of the data which is received at once. The variety of the data flow is also largely based on mass opinion, which makes for pretty inconsistent data. Items like trending topics and world events can trigger and influence the variety of information.
So what exactly are data analysts and companies doing with this data? The goal is for organizations to be able to harness information from any source in order to improve cost, time, and new product development and to improve decision making. Companies can now better predict a specific customer’s likes and dislikes a build an accurate profile, and retailers can project what products will sell. Big data isn’t only making a stir in retail, but also healthcare, law enforcement, government, sports, and much more. The applications of big data are endless and we are surely only at the beginning of a fast moving transformation.
Some people however are hesitant about allowing companies, governments, and social media networks access to analyze personal data for the sake of studying human behavior patterns and trends. The words big data have often become synonymous with ‘big brother’. The reality is that after global adoption of smart phones and mobile gadgets have come into play, personal data footprints are becoming tracked, recorded, and studied. Everything from who you email, text, websites you browse, where you shop and eat, has been monitored and analyzed. There is a delicate line between privacy risks and big data. It is a choice which will have to be faced and weighed out. Will people’s rights to privacy, fairness, and freedom of speech be comprised by the opportunity to cure disease, advance scientific research, and improve in decision making for the masses?