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How Big Data Tells a Story

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 by

Associations with Big Data tend to be pretty clinical – it’s often considered a tool to make more accurate scientific statements, identify trends in social media and news, and develop products by gauging customer response. In other words, the cloud computing tool was largely viewed as a shortcut to making money and creating new offerings for the public, whether that was a breakthrough medication, a new way to communicate wirelessly, or something the world had never even heard of. A less common but equally fascinating use of the technology, however, is as a storytelling mechanism – a capability that can be the most powerful use of all.

As has been the truth in past generations, science and storytelling should coexist in order to remain powerful, a fact that rings true when considering the developing uses of big data.

As in previous generations, science and storytelling need to coexist to remain powerful, a fact that rings true when considering the developing uses of Big Data.

The value of storytelling
The concept of storytelling and the value of its teller is a tradition ingrained in basic human culture that has existed for thousands of years. In generations past, before the written word and widespread publishing of books and magazines, storytellers would enthrall listeners with memorized speeches in the manner of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and Homer’s “Odyssey.” A recent piece on the Fast CoCreate blog detailed some of the finer points of this tradition.

“Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story,” the source stated. “In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”

These statements have plenty of evidence to back them up – stories sell. The movie and publishing industry bring in billions every year, and even our most prevalent social media tools, especially Facebook, are designed to tell the “story” of a user’s life online by highlighting what events and posts have received the most attention. This is just one example of mass data being boiled down to a basic storyline, but it’s a valuable one. Even Snapchat, the ever-present application that is famous for showing a user an image for a few seconds that disappears shortly thereafter, has introduced the “Snapchat Stories” feature that lets users create a narrative from their brief messages.

How Big Data tells a story with accuracy and impact
There’s no doubt that the science behind Big Data is inescapable, but some data scientists have struggled to transform this information into a palatable story for the everyday user to consume. Jeff Bladt and Bob Filbin, data scientists for the activist charity-driven website Dosomething.org, wrote about this process, with which they’re still constantly experimenting, in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review.

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How Big Data can Help Reduce Pollution

Thursday, July 17th, 2014 by

As Big Data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people. Such is potentially the case for the citizens of Beijing as one of the major projects in the field starts to take shape: an initiative to eliminate some of the city’s dangerous smog to improve the health of residents. IBM has announced that this plan will roll out over the next 10 years, with an emphasis on transforming the way air quality is analyzed.

As big data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

As Big Data continues to become a part of our everyday lives, new uses for the technology emerge that stand to improve the quality of life for millions of people.

Pollution disrupts professional routines and overall health
The pollution in Beijing has not only reduced the life expectancy of those who live in the heart of the city, but its constant presence prevents citizens from enjoying their daily lives. According to a recent piece from Quartz writer Gwynn Guilford, the Chinese government is tasked with shutting down many of the basic operations of the city, including the closure of schools and factories and limiting the number of cars that can safely drive within city limits when PM2.5 concentrations grow too high.

Here’s where the cloud infrastructure comes in. Because Big Data works best when mass amounts of information are collected and then boiled down to deliver a concise result, IBM intends to use the method to learn more about what pollutes the air around Beijing by monitoring changes in the atmosphere.

“Called ‘Green Horizon,’ the project will focus on air quality management, renewable energy management, and energy optimization among Chinese industries,” Guildford explained. “As part of the initiative, IBM has already signed a partnership with the Beijing government, which is hoping to tap into the company’s expertise to help tackle the city’s air pollution crisis.”

Cloud servers will be used to analyze current air quality in the city and identify potential solutions for alternative energy. Reuters writer David Stanway speculated that the biggest source of pollution is likely still smog from factories and cars, and that IBM can probably use the same Big Data tools that identified the problem to find effective solutions. Possible long-term projects might include solar- and wind-powered installations within the city to reduce energy consumption.

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Big Data Revolutionizes the Gaming Industry

Thursday, July 10th, 2014 by

There are few technologies that promise to improve as many different industries as Big Data. Whether it’s medicine or the weather in your backyard, the mass aggregation and analyzing of information could result in marked improvement and insight on nearly anything. The cloud computing technology may even change the way we have fun. It has already had an impressive effect on the video gaming industry and will have a great deal of influence on determining what the runaway hits of tomorrow will be. Here’s are a few small but important insights into the world of the gamer.

There are few technologies out there that can stand to improve so many different industries as big data can.

There are few technologies that promise to improve as many different industries as Big Data.

Big Data observes the user learn the game
The emerging technology offers those marketing and developing video game developers more insight than ever into what makes players tick, what makes them happy, and what keeps them engaged. Any game’s success is directly connected to the “addiction” factor – what is it about a certain game that makes users feel they can’t stop playing, and even more important, how can that feeling be monetized? To study this objective further, each activity must be stripped down to individual characters, levels, and other gameplay features to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Qubole writer Gil Allouche wrote a piece on how Big Data can be used to decide how difficult individual levels should be in future incarnations of any given game. A cloud server can track how long it takes each player to finish a level, indicating whether early levels are too simple and need to be beefed up in difficulty or are discouraging new users because they’re too challenging. Mass amounts of data can help narrow down the right decision for an individual game.

Increasing sales on cloud-based consoles
For nearly all current gaming systems, the Internet and cloud hosting have integrated seamlessly to foster more sales as well as engagement between players on massively popular interactive games. By basing the gaming store online with the ability to be accessed on the console itself, gamers are saved a trip to the store and can download a new experience right to their system in real time, giving them less time to question a decision and dive right into a purchase. Big Data also allows companies to better “recommend” similar games and products to the ones a gamer is already enjoying, increasing the likelihood of sealing a sale.

Real-world examples
EA Games is one of the largest video game developers and distributors on the planet, and announced a new commitment to improving its business model and products with the help of Big Data earlier this year. This will give the company a huge technological advantage, especially when it comes to targeting advertising and maximizing player-to-player interaction in major gaming successes like Activision’s “Call of Duty” franchise and EA’s own “Battlefield” franchise. Silicon Angle, a science and technology blog, reported on the gaming company’s major statement.

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3 Unusual Uses of Big Data

Friday, July 4th, 2014 by

When we think of Big Data, we tend to think big picture – massive amounts of information that is used to accomplish any goal a business or individual may have and that is quickly revolutionizing how we get things done. Although this impression may be true, it doesn’t place enough focus on those who are innovating within the field. Here are three organizations that demonstrate the fascinating range of Big Data technology and its results.

Three companies that are using big data to forward their industries.

Three companies that are using Big Data to advance their industries.

Pricing outdoor marketing
Route, an outdoor media analytics company, has thrown itself fully into Big Data in an attempt to revolutionize and question the standards for pricing advertising using conventional tools like billboards, bench ads, and the sides of transportation vehicles. In previous years, owners of these spaces have charged companies “per impression,” or for every time a viewer sees the advertisement, although there has never been a way to strictly quantify these impressions. Using cloud infrastructure, Route hopes to change that result by gathering live analytics to measure how high the impression rate actually is.

E-consultancy writer Ben Davis described how the company went about the study: “360,000 frames (bits of ad space) are analyzed, both their visibility, with eye tracking studies, and the audience size and demographic that come into contact with the ads,” he explained. “28,000 people were interviewed and then tracked across the U.K. by GPS. Part of this involves traffic studies, too.” This level of precision will allow Route to use Big Data to its advantage to justify pricing.

More accurate, collaborative weather forecasting
Collecting as much information as possible to develop a product has always been the name of the game in weather forecasting, but never before has cloud server hosting technology made it possible to crowd-source this data. An application called WeatherSignal launched in 2013 for Android gives its users the opportunity to collect atmospheric data with sensors that were already installed in their devices, according to an enthusiastic article in Scientific American. Though many of the readings are gathered from phones with varying degrees of sensor capability, the application’s relatively spot-on forecasts are a great example of how the Big Data model operates using mass amounts of “dirty data” as opposed to fewer reads of the atmosphere with more advanced equipment. With users offering their devices as a free forecasting tool, it’s a difficult source of information to resist.

Optimizing personal data and lifestyles
Advocates of Big Data in the office will be happy to learn they can take it home with them by making use of a number of devices aimed at optimizing a person’s daily routine. An excellent example is the UP wristband by Jawbone, which tracks daily activity to help users build a more structured, healthy lifestyle. The wristband collects data while its wearer walks, sleeps, and eats, and then integrates with a complimentary application that synthesizes the information to provide a concise report on the actions taken throughout each day. Bernard Marr, a Big Data analytics specialist, publicized some of the fascinating features of the device in a piece on LinkedIn.

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Big Data Changes How Diseases are Diagnosed

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 by

It’s no secret that Big Data is in the process of revolutionizing how we view the world or that it has already transformed a number of industries in the past handful of years. One of the most fascinating areas of development is the health sector, which uses the technology to better diagnose and locate potential risks within patients through analyzing their medical history and symptoms to prevent a problem before it manifests itself. According to recent studies, research is now more critical than ever in nailing down a medical complication.

It's a truth of the contemporary health insurance industry that cutting down costs can be just as important as a patient's health - fortunately, big data offers the ability to improve both using analytic research processes.

Cutting costs can be just as important as a patient’s health – luckily, Big Data can potentially improve both using analytic research processes.

Insurers benefit from locating health risks before they occur
A recent piece in Information Week by Alison Diana explained how Big Data research has helped medical professionals identify a very specific condition using past records and symptoms as their guide.

“While organizations have used a lot of Big Data projects to discern trends, a study conducted by Aetna and GNS Healthcare analyzed data from almost 37,000 members of an Aetna employer customer who opted in for screening of metabolic syndrome – which can lead to chronic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes,” Diana expanded. “GNS analyzed information such as medical claims records, demographics, pharmacy claims, lab tests, and biometric screening results from a two-year period.”

Achieving this impressive result required a mass amount of information from cloud computing servers to narrow results down to a specific patient, something that wouldn’t have been possible to do before the emergence of Big Data technology. Because the risk for metabolic syndrome can now be identified far more quickly than in the past, health insurance providers are taking advantage of Big Data to restructure their systems to save money and reduce complications on behalf of their customers. Research indicated that the condition is 90 percent less likely to affect people if patients have secured primary health care providers and attend regular checkups – by extension, it behooves major providers to tailor their services to whichever processes keep expenses low. Diana spoke with Adam Scott, managing director of Aetna Innovation Labs, about how cloud computing will change the way health insurance is dispersed.

“If we can use information that we have on hand to understand more about disease and risk and provide that information to both our membership and those providers that care for those members, we can drive toward better value, delivered toward better outcomes,” Scott said.

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