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A picture of big data worth more than a thousand definitions?

Rachel Wheeler Archive
Big data has become a big deal for companies, spanning industries from marketing teams to healthcare providers. Yet, many individuals are still unable to nail down an exact definition of big data. Some consider it a large collection of data that's stored on a computer, while others don't define it by the size, but rather by the way information can be compiled and compared by companies to derive meaning, Rick Smolan, creator of the "Day in the Life" series, told ZDNet.

To create a better understanding about big data's potential, Smolan is working on a project that will put a face to the name. Rather than focusing on the industrious uses of big data - reducing loan risks, developing targeted advertisements and determining hotspots on websites - the project aims to show people worldwide about its wide-reaching impacts.

"My goal with this project is to spark a global conversation about big data, about its potential if used wisely and the danger if we aren't very careful," said Smolan. Big data represents an extraordinary knowledge revolution that's sweeping, almost invisibly, through business, academia, government, healthcare and everyday life."

Many big data users run into trouble if they rush into a strategy. This can lead to bad data quality and inaccurate information that contributes to poor decision making. On the other hand, verified data that's collected in real time can help analysts extract very valuable information about global warming, human and animal behavioral patterns, he told the source.

To achieve these goals, "The Human Face of Big Data" project will compile pictures of data collected from satellites, smartphones, GPS-enabled cameras, sensors and RFID tags. These snapshots of information are harnessing everything from insight about the oceans from elephant seals that have been tagged with antennas to human depression from smartphone use. Ultimately, data points will be turned into correlations, and stories, that have a much larger meaning.

"Big data began in computer labs with a handful of elite scientists," said Jeremy Burton, executive vice president of product operations and marketing at EMC. "Soon, everyone from grade school students to grandmothers, and all points in between, will awake to the transformational impact that big data will have on the way we all live, govern, work and play."

To kick off this project, people around the world are being asked to use a partner smartphone application to contribute pictures, information and responses. This information will be compared and compiled so participants can see how others around the world are living at the same moments.