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How to Answer the Biggest Questions About Big Data — in 3 Minutes or Less

A blank face is the most common reaction of people when I tell them I work in big data. Most people I meet in my private life haven’t even heard of the term ‘big data’, let alone have a solid understanding of what it is.

So, for those people in my (and maybe your) life, I’ve put together a little cheat sheet answering the three biggest questions I get asked about big data — each in about a minute or less, and in terms anyone can understand.

Ready? Start the timer. Here we go.


What is big data?

Data is any information or set of facts that has been collected and recorded. We’ve been collecting and recording data since the invention of the written word, maybe before.

The difference now is that there is a lot more of it — the “big” in big data. Because of advances in technology, we can collect a lot more data on a lot more things, and the incredible, massive volume of that data is collectively known as big data.

Big data encompasses everything from numbers in a table to photos, text, audio, video and more. For some more facts and figures see Big Data: 20 Mind-Boggling Facts Everyone Must Read.

What is big data for?

The more information you have about something, the better you can make decisions about it.

So, for example, when a company has more information about what its customers want, it can make better decisions about what to sell, how to advertise, and what prices to set.

Likewise, when a scientist has more information about how a virus spreads through a population, for example, they can make better predictions about where there will be outbreaks and make better recommendations for containing it.

Big data gives people vastly more information than we have ever had before about almost any topic we can imagine. With the invention of internet-connected devices and tiny sensors that we can attach to almost anything, we can gather and analyze data about almost any process, function, procedure, or decision we can think of.

Why does big data matter? (In other words, why do I care?)

Big data affects everyone living in modern society in several ways.

If you participate in society, online or off, there is an almost 100 percent likelihood that some data is being gathered about you by someone. If you use a computer or a cell phone, then you are generating data at a rate never before seen in human history.

Because of that, companies can tailor products, services, advertisements and offers directly to your wants and needs. Amazon can recommend producs you might like, Netflix can tell you what movies you might enjoy, and Pandora can queue up an infinate playlist of songs you will dance to.

At the same time, you need to be aware that this data is being collected, and give informed consent. There are many privacy issues that are still being ironed out, and it is still the consumer’s job to be mindful of what rights they are giving away.

On a larger scale, if you own, operate, or participate in a business, big data can make it easier to know what your customers want, when, and how.

In fact, if you live in the modern world, you cannot escape big data. It is all around us.

So, now that I’ve explained the basics, you can bookmark this article and have it at the ready to send to friends, family members, or colleagues the next time someone asks, “So, what’s the deal with big data, anyway?”

Do you have (or have you heard) other questions about big data you’d like to have answered? Let me know in the comments, and I may try to tackle them in future posts.

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