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by Gemma Stannard
in Big Data
on 09 January 2015

9 amazing ways big data influences our everyday lives

Big data is one of the newest and most exciting technologies currently available to organisations of all industries and sizes, and even individuals.

Over the last few years more and more companies have started utilising big data to gain the edge over their competitors in business and, in many ways, to the benefit their customers directly.

Big data analytics platforms, such as Digital Contact's, allow companies to monitor sources such as social networks, websites, blog articles and forums, so they can receive user feedback and sentiment about their products and services. Such information allows businesses across all types of industries to refine and streamline their services, so that they are gaining the edge over competitors and offering a better customer experience.

For customers, the influences of big data are far reaching, but the technology is often so subtle that consumers have no idea that big data is actually helping make their lives easier.

In this blog post, we look at just some of the ways big data affects you every day without you even knowing!

 

TV Streaming

Did you know that Netflix uses big data to decide which new TV shows and films to make next?

Netflix not only analyses the two billion hours of TV we stream each month to recommend similar programs we might like, but also uses predictive modelling to decide which new original programs to create.

They use big data to find out which actors, genres and directors are popular in the online TV streaming audience to create their multiple hit series. For example, House of Cards was commissioned for two series without even a pilot, costing $4-$6 million an episode to make, by using big data in their research. They found out that Netflix users who enjoyed the original series of House of Cards on the BBC also liked or watched films with the actor Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher, almost guaranteeing them a large audience when they launched the series.

Their newest creation, Marco Polo, has clearly been made with some of the world’s most popular shows in mind – Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead - as well as tying in with their expansion into the Asian market. Although making great business sense for the company, the show cost $90 million to make and received mixed reviews upon its release, showing that the mixture of big data and human elements in research have to be right.

 

Online Shopping

When discussing the huge effects that big data has had on all areas of our online shopping in recent years, Amazon is the obvious example.

Similar to Netflix, Amazon’s perfected recommendation engine uses big data and its database of around 250 million customers to suggest products by using our previous purchases, what we look at on their website, what other people looking at similar things have purchased, and more.

They have also patented and are developing a brand new technology called anticipatory shipping, which predicts what items you might want based on the factors mentioned above and sends it to your nearest delivery hub, meaning faster deliveries for you and less money spent on logistics for Amazon: a win-win situation.

But it’s not just your shopping and delivery that Amazon uses big data for. Databases are used to keep track of over 1.5 billion items in their warehouses, storing product data and handling warehouse theft. Amazon’s website search box autocorrect options are the product of big data too, by analysing every user search and tracking which autocorrect answers are the most clicked on. Lots of these techniques were pioneered by Amazon and are now used by all kinds of websites around the world.

 

Retail

It’s not just shopping online where big data is implemented – it is collected in all kinds of ways when you visit shops on the high street. This gives you a more personalised shopping experience while also allowing retailers to understand what their customers want.

One of the main ways data is collected on what and how you buy is through loyalty cards, which is useful for both you and the company.

When you purchase anything using a loyalty or points card, everything you buy is recorded to allow the company to understand their which products are popular, when and where you shop and what you’re buying elsewhere, allowing them to plan their stock, change their product placement and merchandising, show any gaps in the market they have and more. In return for this information, companies will send you personalised coupons and offers based on your previous purchases, or give you loyalty points to redeem, to encourage you to keep returning to the store.

Big data can also be used in real-time on the shop floor. By bringing up customer profiles which can be linked to your social media accounts, your activity on their website and data from your loyalty card, staff can see what you are looking for to sell you more targeted, relevant products.

Real-time data on what is being sold is also useful for shops, for example in Lush stores staff can see what is selling well at that moment in time and can re-arrange the store accordingly.

All of these new methods of utilising big data help our physical shops compete with the competitively priced and convenient online shopping market.

 

Advertising

Ever wonder how the Internet seems to know what you’ve been looking at online? When you see a Facebook advert for a pair of shoes that you’d been looking at yesterday on Amazon, that’s all down to big data.

The average adult in the UK spends over an hour online and half an hour on their mobile each day* so it’s no surprise that websites can gather a huge amount of data on us based on what we do online.

Your Facebook likes, Google +1’s and Twitter activity show advertisers the TV shows, celebrities, brands, news and issues that you care about, allowing companies and advertisers to accurately find out what interests you. Your basic profile information such as your age or area you live in, along with milestones like getting married are also pulled from social media, and what you like is even figured out by what you search and browse for online. This is done through cookies, which are simply small pieces of data which store the pages you visit on a website in your web browser, and are also the reason your browser remembers information like your email and address online.

A mixture of all of these processes is how you get online adverts that are more relevant to you!

 

Crime   

Big data is now being used in simple but clever ways to support our police force and help keep our streets safe. With the help of big data and visualisation software, police can now predict when and where a crime is most likely to occur, also known as ‘predictive policing’.

This works by storing a complete history of criminal data of the area in a database, along with algorithms based on criminal behaviour patterns, which provides a real-time visualisation of where criminal activity is most likely to be occurring at that moment.

This allows better use of police time as they can spend less time analysing data and are able to station officers where crime is most likely to happen, which not only means catching criminals more effectively but also preventing crimes in the first place. Police all over the world have so far have seen positive outcomes using this new technology, so look forward to this becoming more widespread soon.

 

Health care

Every month there are new breakthroughs in the world of science and healthcare, and many of these are thanks to big data.

One of the biggest problems in this industry is not having access to the data needed to treat people – all of the worlds’ historical data is filed on paper, and many countries have no health data at all. But the hard work of pharmaceutical companies and researchers is paying off after spending years collecting, inputting and aggregating digital data.

Now there are new electronic healthcare systems that allow hospitals to share and exchange data, allowing for better research and evidence-based care, and new and cheaper treatments. These databases can also be used as soon as someone is admitted to hospital: Doctors and nurses can miss warning signs in a busy ward, but a computer can make an instant judgement with terabytes of relevant data on record.

Although these are still new and developing technologies, as you can tell these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential of big data within the health care world.

 

Music industry

The music industry has seen a huge shift over the last decade, fewer people are buying physical copies of music; they are streaming, downloading or torrenting songs and albums instead.

This has opened up a massive window for people working in the music industry – by collecting data online from sources like Spotify and social media, they no longer only know how many copies of a record have been sold, but now have information such as how many times a song is listened to, how many times people share tracks or how much they are talking about the artist. These statistics are helping well known and up-and-coming artists alike.

For record companies and artists, this data can be used to discover where an artist’s biggest fan bases are, helping them to figure out where they should tour and where the greatest opportunities to promote themselves are.

And much like Netflix and Amazon mentioned earlier, big data is also helping the consumer - Spotify uses big data to create its top list playlists and provide listening recommendations to its users.

Big data is now also being used to predict the next hit songs all over the world. By tracking and mapping thousands of sources, software can tell when songs are generating the right amount of social and listening buzz to top the charts with up to 90% accuracy, giving artists’ time to make their next move.

 

Energy/power

There is pressure all over the world for people and companies to reduce their energy consumption. Now we have unprecedented access to how we are using our energy which allows us to make big changes and savings, thanks to combining cheap technology with big data.

You may have seen adverts from companies such as Nest, whose thermostat monitors the energy consumption in your house so it can show you when you’re using the most energy, in turn allowing you to turn the temperature down at that time to save energy and money. This is essentially now what is happening on a massive scale.

Every building is different and is used for different purposes so individual data sets, collected by cheap sensors (or smart meters), are needed to find out the best way for each building to cut down on its energy consumption. These data sets can then be collated to make one big real-time map of an area, with software so advanced that it can display vast amounts of data on simple graphs while flagging up problem areas.

It’s not just helping us avoid energy waste that smart meters and big data are being used for - it also helps energy companies prevent energy theft, provide more accurate meter readings for its customers and forecast energy use.

Individuals and companies are already using big data to save large amounts of energy and money along with the future of the planet, and as this technology gets even cheaper it will be coming to our own homes soon too.

 

Banking

Did you know that it takes only seconds for banks to find out if someone else has used your credit card?

So much big data in this industry has been collected and utilised and in such a powerful way that computer software can now instantly detect suspicious activity and block it in real-time. This could include money taken out of an account at an unusual time or place, or an unusually large amount.

Although criminals also have the latest technology and are able to adapt, much like computer hackers, the banking industry has finally found an effective way to prevent fraud and is able to stay ahead of the game for now.

Of course, very occasionally the bank will get it wrong and you will find your payment declined for no reason (usually on big purchases), but that’s a small price to pay for the safety of our accounts and money.

 

We think that everyone should have access to the endless possibilities of big data. Digital Contact’s big data platform is currently in beta testing and will be launching soon, allowing anyone to use big data, whichever industry or topic they are interested in. To keep up-to-date with our newest blog articles and find out more about our big data platform, you can follow us here on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

 

*Ofcom Survey August 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28677674

 

 

 

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