Everyone everywhere seems to wants to derive insights from the information we call “Big Data.”
Big Data is one of the most significant technology trends in the modern era. Banks seek to harness Big Data to more effectively sell financial services. Social media uses Big Data to help us find each other, stay connected, and expand our networks. Retailers are determined to use Big Data to enable new trends like “geofencing,” which could revolutionize how vendors communicate with consumers. Advertisers direct their content to target audiences derived from Big Data analysis.
Consider what Peter Sondergaard from Gartner said on the subject of Big Data:
“Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.”
In short, Big Data is a big deal and will remain so throughout the 21st century and beyond.
AN ODD AD
One company that manages massive amounts of Big Data is Facebook. With over one billion registered users, Facebook has data about a greater slice of humanity than any entity in the history of humanity. In fact, the very business model of Facebook is based upon Big Data. It goes something like this – Facebook has so much Big Data about so many people that it can target ads in ways that will revolutionize how goods and services move.
I recently logged on to Facebook and noticed that it had presented me with an interesting offer. It offered me a link to a place where I could get a really inexpensive airline ticket for my parents to visit me from India.
I thought, “Hmm. My parents have never been any closer to India than Switzerland.”
I wrote it off as an anomaly. But I kept seeing the ad over and over again.
Then I started to see advertisements for earrings for my wife. The ad had an Indian woman in it. And then I was presented with an ad for Indian wedding attire.
Then it occurred to me – “Wow, Facebook thinks I am Indian!”
SOME DATA POINTS
I had the good fortune of living in India between 2007 and 2009. My family and I lived in Hyderabad during an exciting phase of our lives. Both personally and professionally, it was an amazing experience.
I left India with a deep appreciation for the cultures of that country, a basic proficiency in Hindi, an ongoing appetite for the amazing food, as well as a great number of new Indian friends. And my Facebook reflects all of those things.
I sometimes do posts in Hindi. I often interact with my friends in India. I check in at Indian restaurants here in the U.S. To be honest, you’d have to look far and wide to find a gorra (white guy) with as many desi (south-Asian) creds as I have.
My connections to India, combined with the fact that my name is spelled unusually, mean that you could do a cursory review of the data points about me and surmise that I am Indian. But after using Facebook for the last eight years, it should be abundantly clear that I am not, in fact, Indian. While I am a huge fan of all-things-Indian, almost all of my ancestors came from the British Isles.
While Facebook has massive amounts of Big Data about Byl Cameron, they took some peripheral data points about me and attributed them to my core identity. The fact that Facebook mistook my parents for Indians, when my Facebook-using Mom is named Susan, lives in Florida and is designated as “Mother” in my profile is actually quite surprising. My Dad does not use Facebook.
But this post isn’t about making Facebook look bad. Instead, it is to reinforce two themes:
Big Data can be used to derive insights, but those insights are really only as good as the queries and analytics that collect them.
We all have a long way to go before Big Data can truly offer the insights that will revolutionize our lives.