Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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Long Data

I’ve been thinking about big data lately. Mostly I’ve been trying to articulate why it’s a big deal, which I know, but isn’t often put succinctly. Recently I had a thought that the reason it’s such a big deal is because it means we can move away from using samples to infer to using actuals to understand. That seems really obvious, but it wasn’t a connection I had made before (though I sort of think it was obvious to everyone else).

Anyway, on the big data tip, I found this Wired piece on “long data” pretty interesting (even though I thought I was going to hate it based on the title). The gist:

By “long” data, I mean datasets that have massive historical sweep — taking you from the dawn of civilization to the present day. The kinds of datasets you see in Michael Kremer’s “Population growth and technological change: one million BC to 1990,” which provides an economic model tied to the world’s population data for a million years; or in Tertius Chandler’s Four Thousand Years of Urban Growth, which contains an exhaustive dataset of city populations over millennia. These datasets can humble us and inspire wonder, but they also hold tremendous potential for learning about ourselves.

Not the most in-depth piece in the world, but I like new concepts, and this is one.

January 29, 2013 // This post is about: , , ,


  • Peeyoosh Chandra says:

    Hi Noah,

    Long time reader, first time commenter. The topic if big data is something that i’ve been thinking about too.

    I’ve been part of lots of conversations about “big data” and the view that “data is the new black gold”. My experience to date would say that this is just not the case.

    Being able to use actual data rather than samples can improve accuracy, but that is all it does. The data is still held in silos by the experts.

    In my experience, data becomes most useful when it is put into the hands of “amateurs”. The people who actually care about product and consumer outcomes, and have the passion to act on it.

    Because once they have the tools to navigate the data, the true insight conversation begins.

    So FWIW, I think that the single biggest benefit of big data will be better tools to navigate the sea of data to get to insights faster.

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