Media Cross Media Tackles Big Data

“How many of you know what Big Data is?” asked Heidi Cohen, ClickZ columnist, adjunct NYU professor, President of Riverside Marketing Strategies and moderator of the panel discussion at the Media Cross Media (MXM) Big Data event.

A decent percentage of the crowd gathered at the Corporate Tax Network’s offices on the 60th floor of the Empire State Building raised their hands.

“How many of you are actually working with Big Data?”

Hardly any hands remained raised.

The inundation of consumer data thanks to the proliferation of Internet-connected devices and social services has inspired the term Big Data – a train that companies are acknowledging they have to jump on, but many aren’t quite sure how. As many of the presenters noted, the majority of data out there is unstructured and non-actionable. Companies across industries are overwhelmed by the sheer volume, and rifling through the morass (or building or acquiring tools to) doesn’t produce enough insight to justify the cost.

But if you think the amount of data circulating now is boggling, consider that it’s only growing… Exponentially.

“We’re still in the Stone Age of Big Data,” commented Lara Mehanna, General Manager of Mobile for DataXu (check out a recent Q&A on the company’s acquisition of Mexad). According to stats she brought along, the 1.8 zettabytes (a zettabyte equals 1 billion terabytes) produced in 2011 is expected to expand to more than 13 zettabytes in 2015.

Big Data management used to be a “luxury” for massive retail enterprises such as WalMart that had the resources to harvest their fields upon fields of data, but technology is leveling the playing field, according to Heidi Messer, Cofounder and Chair of Collective[i] – the Internet is the “equalizer.” “Knowledge networks” like Collective[i] are democratizing Big Data by offering the corporate masses affordable access to data collection and processing functionalities.

Big Data isn’t just for the big kids anymore. Messer cited the examples of Google and Facebook – two startups that rapidly became technology giants and experienced insane rates of growth that were all the more impressive for occurring during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. What’s at the core of both their businesses? Data. (And nerds, but that’s another story.)

In addition, Messer commented that the data revolution has effectively pushed creativity in marketing to the back burner – the hunger for data and experimentation in targeting audiences/users is front of marketing minds. However, she hinted that the widespread implementation of data management tools would actually inspire a creative revolution.

Mehanna explained that mobile has become a huge component of DataXu’s digital marketing management platform (a DSP melded with a DSP). The almost endless data stream created by mobile device use is allowing companies to move beyond the buckets audience profiling – “No one wants to be pegged in an audience,” she said – to garnering insight on a user level, as consumer behavior is surprisingly easy to interpret from a mobile device.

When it comes to security and privacy, she noted that a great deal of mobile data is opt-in, though it must be noted that Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill to Congress that would require companies and developers to inform users exactly what data is being sent where and to whom. This comes in the wake of the media/government fuss over Carrier IQ and its deep-in-the-background collection of diagnostic mobile user data.

“I spend most of my time turning big data into small data,” quipped Hilary Mason, chief scientist for link shortener and social analytics platform bitly. This requires chucking loads of data – from email, social media channels, even gaming resources – through algorithms to produce insight. What’s most amazing is what can be shown in real-time – Mason displayed numerous data visualizations bitly is running that are updated at-the-moment, including a map of the U.S. colored by politics-related sharing on a geolocation basis.

“Our goal is to find out what the Internet is paying attention to and then try to make it meaningful,” Mason said.

Still, the majority of social data is simply noise, commented Sebastian Hempstead, VP of Americas for BrandWatch, which crawls more than 10 million sites for relevant conversational data. Proper analysis requires understanding the social signals and metadata, then diving further to examine relationships between the people speaking. Because social data tends to be so flexible, organizing social data is of the utmost importance – is it related to online reputation management, research, social customer relationship management, or something else entirely?

Unfortunately, prior commitments required me to leave the party early. The brainchild of boutique digital agency ADObjects and its founder and CEO Matthew Snyder, MXM will return with another get-together in March. Snyder also shared updates on a presentation given at AdMonsters OPS Mobile event in December regarding responsive web, or adaptable CSS that changes based on screen size – interest in the concept has exploded in the last two months, and now more designers are working on responsive websites rather than mobile ones.


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