I recently attended the Strata Conference in London. This is the latest incarnation of O’Reilly’s Data conferences. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Obviously most of the attendees were already ‘data’ aficionados, but it’s clear that ‘data’ in various forms is on the radar for governments, large corporations and the developer communities.
If you asked anyone when ‘big data’ started to become important most people would say they started to hear about it, maybe 5 years ago. George Dyson blew that idea away in his keynote talk which talked about various data projects as far back as the 1950’s. He told us a great, easy to remember stat - In 1953, the total amount of RAM in existence worldwide was just 53kb.
Having said that it’s still early days for most companies looking to leverage their data. A few of the speakers mentioned that some companies are saying We’ve got all this data, what can we do with it? The consensus was that this isn’t the right approach, rather find a problem that you need to solve, then look at the data .
It’s also true that a lot of really interesting, important and relevant questions can be answered with datasets that fit on a laptop. It’s not always about tackling problems at Google scale, we should be focusing on the important data instead. All sorts of changes in society are coming when we start measuring and analysing more and better than we do today.
Some of those changes are going to be difficult from a morality and privacy point of view, but I’m confident that by using data well we’ll have opportunity to improve many areas.