Google has figured out that I shop for a lot of children's clothing online, as my two children grow like weeds. Every time I launch a search, my banner ads link to brands that I have bought previously or similar brands that other consumers may have purchased. That is Big Data at work, as it is being used to identify other brands that I might be interested in purchasing based on shoppers with similar consumer profiles to mine. But let's say that the next banner ad I receive isn't for children's clothing, but is instead for an all-inclusive Caribbean vacation. Well, I have never searched for Caribbean vacations, why would this be turning up? Again, this is Big Data at work, because patterns in human behavior have informed Google that people with small children are likely good targets for a quick getaway vacation. This is an example of the value of Big Data in predicting individual consumer behavior based on the behavior of many.
"Big Data" is the somewhat uncreative but accurate term for the process of collecting, culling, and categorizing of data from diverse sources on a massive scale. Through the application of algorithms, companies are analyzing Big Data in order to see patterns in human behavior, and (most commonly) using it to develop targeted, individualized marketing. The primary goal of Big Data is to learn from a large body of information things that we could not comprehend when we used only smaller amounts. Recent trends point to an increase in the use of Big Data, but there are several cautionary points from a legal and privacy perspective to consider.
What are the uses of Big Data, and who uses it? The potential benefits are wide ranging, but can be categorized as follows:
- Identifying Consumer Habit: Companies use Big Data to understand customer preferences, anticipate future behavior and develop individualized marketing campaigns.
- Identifying Patterns in Human Behavior: Big Data is being used to provide insight in human behavior (outside of just shopping). For example, Big Data has been used to identify infections in premature infants before symptoms appear by monitoring 16 different vital signs, and finding the correlation between minor and major problems.
- Increasing Efficiency: Companies and government entities are using Big Data to improve internal operations and reduce costs. For example, NYC is using Big Data to determine which building are most at risk for fires for overburdened city inspectors.
How is this different than the statistical analysis that companies have been engaged in long before the advent of the Internet? Plenty of organizations have been handling and sifting through massive amounts of data for years. Why is the use of Big Data on the rise with no sign of slowing?