Big data... the next big thing?
Strategy executive Ed Crowley reports on shifting trends and the challenge of big data...
Earlier this month I attended an interesting Londata talk: Using Data to Excite and Delight, given by Alex Craven and Peter Laflin from 'digital discovery' agency Bloom. The event covered the current hot topic of big data – apparently, it’s the next big thing and it’s going to change everything.
As with most big new things, people know they should be excited, but many aren’t sure why. For some, the excitement lies in the way big data creates a fundamental shift in research.
Traditionally, strategists asked groups of people questions and tried to discern wider patterns and truths from what they said. Sample sizes were small and often skewed. What’s happening now is that people are making the information we need available. To see just how free some people are with their personal data, look at the Twitter account @needadebitcard, which consists of retweets of people tweeting photos of their debit cards.
This means that instead of asking people, we can now ask questions of their data. And there is a huge amount of it about. To give you some context, 48 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube and more than 100,00 tweets are posted every minute. This creates the possibility of discovering wider patterns and seeing previously unknown connections between people. The main problem is filtering all this data.
Yet the challenge of sifting through to get accurate and useful data is merely the problem of unreliable reporting from focus groups writ large. You still need to be asking the right questions, only this time it's using algorithms and machines rather than clipboards and surveys. While the data may be bigger, the result is the same as any good research: a greater understanding of brands and the people who interact with them.
For all the excitement, big data is simply a more effective tool in our attempt to stop pushing unwanted communications on unsuspecting people. And that’s where the real interest lies.