Thursday, 16th August 2012
It's hard to look at an information industry publication or blog these days without running across the term "Big Data." Sarah Hinton provides a practical look at what this often vague term means to researchers and information professionals. This is a short version of a longer article on the same topic available as part of the FreePint Subscription. The longer article provides specific examples of the impact of Big Data on research projects, suggestions for incorporating Big Data principles into many types of organisations and suggestions for staying informed about this topic. Subscribers can log in to view it now.
Big Data is a short phrase that describes a vast mass of stuff, which, in many cases, hasn't yet become information: unedited, unsorted and raw. Big data intrigues me in a way that "information overload" never did. Perhaps this is because dealing with information overload was and still is, central to my work, whereas big data hadn't seemed quite so relevant – until this year.
Data collection devices for enabling personalised medicine and improved patient surveillance represent a huge market which is fast moving towards “pervasive adoption” and these devices are beginning to gain regulatory approval too. In some cases they are no more than just another smart phone app, but all have one thing in common: They are designed to collect huge amounts of data.
Along with the excitement at the potential of these apps and big data gadgets come many concerns, such as privacy versus data sharing, effectively using the data, the need to be selective and data security. I've gathered a few particularly interesting examples of how big data is being used today as well as some of the areas of concern that have arisen and will need to be addressed:
The complexity of big data projects is well-illustrated through the ambitious plans to scan every book, a vision first driven by Google and now being taken up by Harvard University via its Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) project. Technology is not the main issue here. These projects are caught up in the “tangle of legal, commercial and political issues” that surrounds the publishing world and likely the larger universe of big data as well.
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