“Big data” is a scary concept to the everyday man or woman. The name alone holds weight and connotations that invoke images of companies following your every step and knowing more about you than even you know about yourself. In 2015, in short, there is a disconnect between the common man and the large corporation in regards to what the value of big data is.
But let’s take a step back. The common man or woman—the small business owner, the freelancer, the website designer, or just the curious individual—can use data to his or her advantage, and it doesn’t involve investing a significant amount of time or resources to do so.
The fact is, “data” can refer to so many things. Gender, diet preferences, age, and more, can all be considered as part of a data set. Data doesn’t have to be complicated, nor it doesn’t have to be “big.” Most importantly, you—the everyday hard-working person—have the advantage of being able to leverage your own data to your advantage, in addition to analyzing other people’s data to help your own business ventures.
You may be using and interpreting your own data without realizing it. How did it take for you to get to work today? The answer in your mind is the beginning of a new data set. What if you leave your house 10 minutes earlier for work tomorrow? The result of doing so is another mark you can add to the data set. All of a sudden, after just two days, you’ll know whether or not leaving your house 10 minutes earlier has no impact on your commute, makes it faster, or, somehow, makes it longer. This is data in action, specifically, this is you using your own data for your own advantage.
There are several tools you can use online, on your television, on your phone, and more, that give you the ability to use data to your own advantage—in a more beneficial manner than simply figuring out optimal commute times. Here are some ways that your own data can be used to your advantage:
Google Advantage is one tool that nearly everyone with a website—from a simple landing page, to a website with 100 pages and separate microsites—uses to understand visitor information.
For you, whether you’re a freelance photographer or a one-person marketing team at a small business, Google Analytics is the best option to understand how people interact with you and your company.
If you’re self-employed, you may not have a big budget to splash out on things like web development, advertising, AdWords, freelancers, contractors, and more. Your time is tight, your budgets are low, but Google Analytics is a tool that you can spend guilt-free time on. Your site could be hosted on Squarespace, Tumblr, WordPress, and other DIY services, but you’ll be able to see where your visitors are coming from (country), time spend on site, site flow, bounce rates, click-through-rates, and more.
For you, Google Analytics is the easiest way to use other peoples’ data to your own advantage in an unobtrusive manner, even if you have no prior experience with understanding, analyzing, and interpreting data.
Netflix, Amazon, Apple
Data doesn’t have to be complicated, sometimes it simply requires watching a TV show or buying a book—and that’s it. With Netflix and Amazon, you give up your data in exchange for personalized recommendations—the companies understand your preferences, and provide you with similar, targeted content in exchange for you continuing to use their services.
“Rather than just take take take, why can’t more companies give back, reflect our data back on us? Doing this in a real, honest way has to create some business value,” says Bruce Upbin, author of How Intuit Uses Big Data For The Little Guy for Forbes.
“Netflix, for example, takes all of its customers’ viewing habits and movie ratings and runs them through a sophisticated algorithm to generate the 5-star recommendation system tailored for each subscriber.”
Other websites and services take a similar approach of using your data to provide you with recommendations. Goodreads, a site for booklovers, provides you with recommended reads after you’ve rated 25 books you’ve read—it uses the ratings you’ve left for the 25 books you’ve read (the genres you favored, the authors, the page count, the year published, and more) and becomes more and more targeted after every book you rate. YouTube simply analyses what videos you tend to watch and then provides similar recommendations every time you visit the site.
Even with Apple’s iTunes, the more music you play—the more data you’re voluntarily giving up on what artists, songs, and genres you like—the more information gets sent to iTunes’ “Genius” feature. Genius makes playlists from the songs in your music library that go great together, and that you would like to listen to, but also introduces you to movies, TV shows, and music that you might like, but that you don’t currently have. In this sense, you can discover new, great content that’s of your specific interests and likes by simply listening to your existing playlists and music libraries. “Genius” is a feature that you voluntarily have to turn on—and can turn off anytime—making it perfect example of how you can give out your own data to get something beneficial in return.
All you need to do with these websites and tools is to simply watch, read, listen to, and order what you like. Every time to watch an episode of Friends on Netflix, you’re using data to your advantage. Every time you order a book on Amazon, you’re using data to your advantage. Every time you watch a 30 second video on YouTube, you’re using data to your advantage.
Mobile apps have permeated every aspect of everyday life. You can turn on your iPhone and access Twitter, Facebook, your eMail, the New York Times, find restaurant recommendations, and more, all using mobile apps.
On such app, Mint, lets you to truly understand your finances: income, expenses, spending habits, budgets, and more. A large part of “big data” for large corporations is understanding the income levels of their buyers, including how much money the buyers spend on particular items, product lines, and more. In short, finances play one of the biggest roles in regards to understanding and analyzing data.
With Mint, you can understand your own financial habits at your own convenience—you control every aspect of your own data, and can use this data to understand your past finances while planning your future.
This is an example of when data can break down complicated situations for an individual person, and is designed to do just that. With an app like Mint, you can see what category the highest percentage of your income is being spent on. If Mint showing you that you’re spending 25% of your income on fast-food—and it can do so because Mint is linked to your credit card and bank account—you can use this information and decide to re-allocate that money elsewhere and change your lifestyle. This is your data, being analyzed on your time, for your own benefits.
Nearly everything you do has an element of “data” related to it. Your gender, height, and city, all seem common and straightforward, but even these three, simple, everyday elements all constitute one form of data or another. With this in mind, you have the ability to use your own data for your own good—or use the tools at your disposal, such as Google Analytics, to use other peoples’ data, without the need to assemble a team, spend money, or even spend a significant amount of time.
Being able to use your own data to your advantage puts you in the drivers seat. Companies are going to try to use your data in any way possible—even if it’s to understand what email marketing mailing list to add you on. By taking the same concepts, you ultimately get to decide what’s best for you, and what you get out of the human-company interaction, rather than letting the industry giants get all the benefits out of the relationship.