How InfoChimps plans to fill the gap in the big data market

There are companies that know they need an in-house data deployment, then there's everybody else. Everybody else, meet InfoChimps

Note: Normally this space is reserved for things related to your phone, not the servers and data that make your phone possible. But our author had a chance to meet some Big Data folks at South by Southwest recently, and so we're offering up a quick take on one up-and-coming player.

Infochimps' depiction of their data deployment and services
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There are tiny firms that can fit the data they generate onto a few computers and drives--your local coffee shop, for example. There are huge firms that maintain their own huge data operations, like Target or Amazon. Then there’s everyone in the middle, who know they have what is now called “Big Data” in the industry, but don’t have a firm strategy on how to get the most out of it.

That’s where co-founders Joseph Kelly and Dhruv Bansal see InfoChimps making its biggest impact. The 15-person firm, founded in July 2009 in Austin, Tex., has a kind of hybrid business. InfoChimps sells structured, external data sets, such as U.S. retail location databases, so a customers could match up, for example, Walgreens locations against gas stations and average incomes. Twitter analytics, market research, product pricing points, and thousands of other data sets are sold as-is, or offered through an API, in Infochimps’ Data Marketplace.

But closer to the founders’ true ambitions is the business of helping companies manage and understand their own data.

“We take the chimp work out of data,” Kelly said, quoting his firm’s unofficial motto during an interview at the South by Southwest Interactive conference earlier this week. “InfoChimps is about helping companies get a handle on the size of their data, and making sure they know what they can get out of it.”

Infochimps seems to live and breathe Hadoop, and the firm has built their own tools around Hadoop’s open-source data management system. The idea is to provide a kind of “Heroku for Big Data”, giving ambitious startups and existing firms a chance to do serious analytics without having to invest in servers, dedicated data engineers, and other often sizable costs.

The opportunities for growth are real, as more growing businesses see how the big players sort, track, and target customers with remarkable efficiency. In some ways, then, Infochimps must make targeted evangelism part of its core business. It has to know how to find the right customers--maybe those generating more than 100 GB of data per day--and work with them to ensure the right kinds of data and tracking are used. It’s a challenge that’s going to get bigger as more and more parts of our lives start to generate columns, tables, and sets.

“There’s the saying that real estate is valuable because nobody’s making more of it,” Kelly said. “It’s also true that nobody’s making less data. That’s really valuable, too, if you know what to do with it.”

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