Stephen Baker

The Numerati
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Paradox: Are Big Data successes largely anecdotal?

March 8, 2013Hop Skip Go

Those in the world of the Numerati, or Big Data, tend to pooh-pooh analysis based on anecdotes. And why not? They can easily be statistical outliers, and often they are. The trouble is that human beings relate to stories. They're so accessible, and perfectly suited to a sales pitch. So it shouldn't be any surprise that much of the hype around Big Data, whether in marketing or medicine, is based on stories.

Paul Barsch, a marketer at Teradata, makes this point in a blog post. He writes:

The truth is that some companies are having wild success reporting, analyzing, and predicting on terabytes and in some cases petabytes of Big Data. But for every eBay, Google, or Amazon or Razorfishthere are thousands of companies stumbling, bumbling and fumbling through the process of Big Data analytics with little to show for it.

Sadly, success in Big Data doesn't lend itself, at least at this juncture, to statistical analysis. Customers and vendors keep their failures to themselves. And we usually only hear about them (as anecdotes) after someone gets fired. This leaves it to the successes (and the liars) to trumpet their greatness. The Big Data narrative is built on anecdotes.

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