Does Big Data Have A Story Beyond Geeks?

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What's your big data story? By Kristen Nicole (Senior Editor, SiliconAngle)

During my trip to Austin for SXSW 2012, I wanted to uncover this year’s big data story, and determine the areas to which big data can still be applied. SXSW is a unique instance of merging cultures, technology and marketing themes, pitting mainstream appeal against the festival’s coveted air of exclusivity. That makes it an interesting stage for something like big data, which often operates behind the scenes, and in many ways is still considered an emerging technology.

As big data finds its foothold beyond being a buzz word towards becoming a business solution, the range of industries its technology touches defines the individual chapters of its story.

What’s your big data story?

Probably most indicative of big data’s transition is the diverse anecdotes I picked up on during SXSW. It’s important to remember that data has always been there, we just have new technology for capturing, storing and assessing information. But one way it’s being applied is in reducing the noise around the onslaught of media content thrown at us day in and day out. Are You Watching This?! founder Mark Phillip is looking to reduce this noise with his application, which studies game statistics to determine when it’s worthwhile for you to pay attention to the TV.

“We’re going to get fatigued,” Phillips predicts. “It’s slowly setting in. People take for granted how much energy we have in playing with our toys. My goal with RUWT?! is to reduce that. Instead of checking your phone every five minutes, we’ll alert you when you need to head to the TV.”

And aside from big dreams of big data being applied to the unmanageably long badge pick-up line, Daily Dot CEO Nick White sees SXSW for its collective of individuals converting digital data into physical actions.

“Increasingly what we do in the physical world is being captured in some way,” White says. “In all that, there’s latent data. The internet of things–the key part of that sci-fi idea becoming a reality–is that implicitly, we’re giving off data. A fridge with a brain isn’t that useful until you connect it to what you are doing.”

Datafiniti, the search engine for data, is hoping to create a narrative around the increasing number of data points generated at SXSW’s Interactive scene. “We’re building a database of SXSW, even beyond attendees, and combining topics and events with all the data we already have with the things they’re interested in and where they’ve been,” explains Datafiniti CEO Shion Deysarkar.

“You get a real life view of these people’s interests and we’ll look at their behavior while at SXSW, as well as three months out. It’s interesting for brands–SXSW is a great venue to get brands out to lots of people at once, but we still don’t know the best way to target these people. The key thing is knowing who these people are outside of SXSW, taking the data from the event and combining it with data outside of SXSW to create a better picture.”

Does big data have a story beyond the geeks?

Indeed, there’s many instances in which big data can be applied to a larger consumer market, drawing up an insightful picture around their interactions and behavior. The smartphone is key to bringing big data to the consumer, and this is where big data’s story extends beyond the geeks, if you will.

From a mechanism that’s moving in the background, following our consumer behavior, big data comes back to the consumer in the form of recommendations and services.

For Phillip, the smartphone is like a security blanket, providing an entry point for connecting this internet of things back to the consumer.

We have an Android app that connects with your TV, Google TV and set top box,” he describes. “That little interaction, even though I built it, makes me giddy. It’s the future we’ve been waiting for. I may not have a flying car, but I can remote-control my TV with my phone. I think that goes beyond geeks and is ready for the masses.”

Companies like LiquidSpace are leveraging data for real-time services around the work space, connecting individuals with offices available to rent at a moment’s notice. And their growing marketplace is a tremendous opportunity for the startup, as the system continues to get smarter. Founder Mark Gilbreath sees this as a chance to take their data and address other problems that others are trying to solve, giving invaluable feedback to building planners, furniture makers and even network providers based on this pool of data around evolving work behavior.

“Our system, for the first time ever, is capturing data on how people go to work every day, or night!” says LiquidSpace President and COO Doug Marinaro. “Because we’re member-centric, we can track what the individual does, giving a larger purview. With social, we’ll see more integration with LinkedIn, the ability to show where you’re working on Twitter, and how those spaces are being socialized. We see a fantastic opportunity to help people make better decisions.”

Using big data makes everyone smarter

And better decision-making is really what big data is all about, whether you’re a marketing firm or a gym rat. Whether you’re talking about a business intelligence solution or personalized financial planning, there’s an array of areas big data is being applied. It seems we’ve already run the gamut on industries that have been influenced by big data, but I heard a few intriguing ideas at SXSW where big data can still be utilized.

The publishing world is one area exploring big data for a variety of purposes, moving beyond the ad space, and this is where Parse.ly hopes to take its publisher-specific solution.

“The interesting thing about where we are and where we want to go is that there’s a lot of big data solutions for publishers, but it’s been mostly for ads,” says Parse.ly CEO Sachin Kamdar. “The interesting thing is not just on the ad side, but on content creation and promotion. As content and editorial technology starts to come closer to the ad side, what will that look like and result in regarding bottom line profit?”

Datafiniti’s Deysarkar would like to see big data applied to both ends of the spectrum, seeing room for improvement “downstream, in collecting the most meaningful aspects of unstructured content,” he says. “Twitter’s an example, but there’s lots of rich data elsewhere. On the other side, there’s lots of analytics left to be done as far as looking at the data for something that can provide an answer, making it easier to find the answers you need.”

This post was originally posted at SiliconAngle.

About the guest blogger: Kristen Nicole is a Senior Editor for SiliconAngle, a digital publication discussing the intersection of computer science and social science. She is a regular contributor at TIME Techland and Appolicious, a mobile-centric publication recently incorporated into Yahoo's news and content network. She started at 606tech, a Chicago blog. She went on to become the first employee and Field Editor at Mashable, a publication now syndicated through CNN. Follow her on Twitter at @KristenNicole2.