Where does big data come from? Look in the mirror

By 2015, 68% of the world’s unstructured data, such as you find on Facebook and YouTube, will be created by consumers

Credit: Source: striatic/Flickr

Consider Facebook -- a big data company, if there ever was one. It’s where the term “data scientist” originated. Yet, without you and me, it’s not a business. It requires us to generate content. That content attracts more people. More people on a massive scale attract advertisers. And there you have Facebook’s business model.

Google, another big data company, depends on us to make its advertising model work. When millions of us search for content using Google and then navigate to sites it has suggested, we improve its site ranking decisions, which improves search efforts for more people going forward. Precision searching means precisely targeted, search-related advertisements, which is Google’s business model.

Let’s face it, big data comes from us.

According to Dr. Natalie Petouhoff, a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business, we generate about 3.5 billion pieces of content each week. By 2020, she says, that will rise to a staggering 450 billion items each day. In a report published by Booz & Company, analysts estimate that by 2015, 68% of the world’s unstructured data, such as you find on Facebook and YouTube, will be created by consumers. Google says that unstructured data is growing at a rate 15 times that of structured data, which expands at a healthy 20% CAGR.

Without us, Facebook’s and Google’s multibillion dollar empires, for example, could not exist. We are the fountain of their big data. Their businesses are merely the venue in which our content lives. But we humans are a fickle bunch. We can like something one minute, then change our minds, particularly in regard to where we communicate and generate content. Remember CompuServe? AOL? AltaVista? They once dominated the affections of consumers. They were once the places to be. No longer.

That’s why, despite Facebook’s and Google’s respective dominance, companies large and small continue to battle them by introducing new search engines (e.g., Microsoft Bing) and social networks (e.g., Pinterest). The new enterprises hope fickle people will find their new offerings more compelling and thus attract more of us to jump our current big data ship and start using a competing venue. Our big data is worth billions of dollars, so it’s worth taking a chance that a new venue can siphon off some of it – and the value it creates.

That’s also why Facebook, Google, and other big data repositories that depend on us for content will continue to innovate their platforms and extend services because they cannot compel us to create big data for them. Their big data future is at the mercy and whim of our fingertips. So they must lure us and hold us, seducing us into creating more content, which attracts more people, leading to more advertising dollars.

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