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The World of Big Data (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series on Big Data, Tech Talker focused on how Big Data is used in science, business, and government. This week, Part 2 explains the connection between Big Data and social media.

By
Eric Escobar
October 31, 2013
Episode #098

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This is the second part of my series on Big Data. If you haven't listened to the first episode go check it out now at Quick and Dirty Tips Website

In the last Tech Talker episode, we we talked about what Big Data is and how it produces huge databases of information that is processed and leveraged by corporations, government, and scientists to chart trends, make smarter business decisions, or unveil incredible discoveries about our world. Make sure you check out Part 1 of the series on Big Data for more.

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The Rise of Social Media

In the past 5 years, the world of social media has exploded and so has the number of users of these networks. Facebook has 1.2 billion users, Twitter has 200 million users, and YouTube has 1 billion views each month!

Now think about this: With all of these people using these social media platforms, there are 100,000 tweets, 700,000 Facebook shares, 3,600 Instagram posts, and 2 hours of YouTube video uploaded every second!

That’s a ton of data being generated by individuals all over the world. The challenge to Big Data has been to make sense of all this information in a number of ways. For instance, Facebook has the largest collection of user photographs any other single company or government on the planet.

How Social Media Uses Big Data

You might think, "Well, that's just great. But so what? What information can be gleaned from a simple picture?" Well if that picture is uploaded using a mobile device, you’ve given up your location, your face, and a timestamp of when that photo was taken. Facebook is using all of this data to feed its facial recognition engine.

Have you ever experienced Facebook asking you if a certain person was you in a picture? If so, that’s Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm working away. Basically Facebook takes pictures you’ve been tagged in and it looks for similarities between your face and its vast collection of images.

Honestly, I think it’s half scary and half awesome. Scary when you think of how many pictures of yourself there are on the web, especially on Facebook. Awesome in the sense that Facebook is creating software that can do much more than search for text. It’s really easy for a computer to make sense of structured data like text. But if you really want to throw a computer for a loop, try wearing glasses in a picture and see if it recognizes you. Okay so what can this be used for? Facebook is using it for tagging more and more images in its databases. For what purpose you might be wondering?

Well, every time you click on a new page on Facebook. a new ad is populated, and that ad was paid for by an individual or a company, so the more page views and clicks Facebook gets, the more revenue flows into their pockets! Let's say you were scrolling through your friend's Facebook images and there were 10 pictures where she tagged herself. That might convert into 10 clicks on different pages. Now imagine Facebook has found another 100 images on other people's pages that have her same face. That could translate into many more clicks and therefore a lot more revenue.

This brings me to my main point: Big Data in social media is big business! That is, big money gained and, in some cases, lost.  These trends in business and the social media world are uncovered by algorithms. An algorithm is a complex calculation that a computer does to crunch data to find something meaningful in it.

An example would be stock market swings due to investors' perception, or even what the next viral video will be!

There’s a great novel out now called The Social Code by Sadie Hayes, which delves into the world of big business in social media. The book shows that small changes in an algorithm can mean huge changes in business, especially if your company is heavily dependent on internet traffic.

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