Big Data Informatics – Introduction

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After a nice summer break , my second semester as a grad student in Data Science at Indiana University began about a month ago. I’m taking two courses this semester – “Informatics of Big Data” and “Social Media Mining”. I will occasionally (like today) reflect on some of my course material in this blog. The focus of the “Informatics of Big Data” course is to ‘provide a survey of the organizational, legal, political, and social issues that surround the creation, dissemination and use of Big Data from the perspective of social and organizational informatics.’ It is a non-technical course that describes how Big Data is changing culture, organizational structure and work practices. I think it will be a great complement to the more technical “Mining” course I’m also taking.

Today I want to begin a discussion about three advantages of using a social and organizational informatics approach to investigate big data and data science. Big Data is embedded in most of our social and institutional contexts. Using a social and organizational approach changes our view about data, enables us to use the information to answer questions and speeds up how we solve problems. Historically data was viewed as something that belonged to an elite few such as academics or heads of corporations or governments. In the past you could only access the data if you were physically present in a library or laboratory or paid a subscription fee to read an article. Today we’re seeing the democratization of data – putting information into the hands of many more people. We increasingly think data and information should be free and easy for anyone to access. Even the U.S. government has followed this rationale as the President signed into law that government data be “open” by default in 2013.

Our ability for anyone to access great quantities of data means we have the potential as a society or organization to infer and make better decisions and answer questions with that data. In a recent Forbes article, they describe data as the new purple. During the last 50 years, data access was entrusted to two privileged groups in much the same way as purple was only worn by royalty. Data was in the hands of the executive who made the decisions and the analyst who understood how to translate the data. Today so much more information is at our fingertips which can be used to solve real-world societal and organizational challenges more quickly. When the data is widely available, anyone can answer questions and solve problems.

Today we looked at how Big Data is such an enormous part of our lives. We talked about how data is intertwined with our social structures. Next week we’ll take a look at how Big Data can cause exclusion.

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