Big Data!

November 24, 2014  |  Online Education | E-Learning  |  Share
Big Data

 

Big Data is the phrase on everyone’s lips, across any number of different industries and businesses. Big Data might well be the defining set of innovations of our time- depending on how well we take advantage of it.

So what exactly is Big Data? The name appears self-explanatory- large collections of data. However, Big Data is really two things- a combination of new ways to collect a lot of information and new techniques for interpreting that information. These factors have become important due to the ever-increasing power of computers to hold and analyze large datasets, as well as improvements in connection speeds. Along with the technical innovations have come new uses for data: researchers and business leaders realized the potential benefits of more and more information and began to apply Big Data techniques to anything they could imagine.

For example, Google uses information about about the people who use its services to deliver targeted ads that are more likely to earn attention than generic ads. This basic idea has created a business worth billions of dollars, and it is all based on Big Data- first, gathering as much information as possible about individual people, and then using that information to determine what kinds of product each person is likely to buy. Finally, Google grabs an ad from a big list of ads and places it on websites that person visits. Google tracks hundreds of millions of different attributes for each person using its services- and hundreds of millions of people do so. That is Big Data.
There are all kinds of ways that innovators collect data. Some take it from the Internet. There is quite a lot of information locked away in documents and websites that were previously hard to access, but new tools called “scrapers” can pull usable information out of almost any webpage. Some collect it- Google simply records as much as it possibly can. Some people use more advanced tools, like sophisticated software that can interpret and codify the information in Google Maps, Google Earth, and other map software for use in data analysis. Part of the impact of Big Data is the way almost anything can be harvested for useful information. It takes two things- a way to collect data and a use for the data. Innovation in both areas has led to the increased presence of Big Data in every field.
Training and education is no exception. For example, marketing is an obvious candidate for Big Data applications. More and more marketing firms are training their workers in Big Data techniques and analysis. In fact, some consulting firms even make their business revolve entirely around applying Big Data tools to marketing problems. Big Data, especially scraping and tracking trends, is a great way to learn how people feel about a product and how that feeling has changed over time.
It can also help sellers find new channels that can bring in sales. For example Big Data and search engine optimization let people who maintain online stores compare dozens of different designs for their website and learn about which one leads to the most sales. Software can randomly assign website visitors to see one of several designs and track how well each design leads to a sale, a subscription, or some other metric. Furthermore, the ability of salesmen to learn what kind of techniques work best, and then teach those techniques to their recruits, is easier than ever with Big Data. Sales teams can record their successes and failures, and analysts can compare their results with other teams and even other companies with dedicated data collection.
Even the very presence of Big Data has led to a response among educators. The new position of “data scientist” has begun popping up in lob listings in technical fields. Data scientists are essentially Big Data specialists. They are trained in finding data and extracting value from it for their employers. The growing potential of Big Data has made the position potentially quite important for companies who can take advantage of the unique set of skills data scientists possess. Likewise, the practice of data science is becoming more formal and defined, to the point where some colleges and universities have begun offering masters degrees in the subject. They are generally composed of computer science classes with data extraction tools as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques for analyzing large amounts of data. These latter subjects can allow a program to “learn” how to read and use data, as well as make predictions. At first they need human guidance, but eventually such programs can process information faster and more accurately than the people who “trained” them.
It’s clear that Big Data is changing how we do things in all kinds of ways. While it might not be as obvious as the rollout of the Internet or the spread of electricity, Big Data’s effect on how we do business will lead to new ways of learning and communicating. Keep an eye out for new programs of study in data and information management- they could become key parts of the next generation of our workforce.

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