The idea of big data is compelling; want to uncover hidden patterns about customer behavior, predict the next election, see where to focus marketing spend? There’s an app for that. And to listen to the pundits, we should all be telling our kids to become data scientists, since every company will need to hire an army of them to survive the next wave of digital disruption.
Yet all the steam coming out of the big data hype machine seems to be obscuring our view of the big picture: in many cases, big data is overkill.
Big data is useful only if we (those of us who aren’t data scientists) can do something with it in our everyday jobs, which is where small data enters the picture.
What’s small data? On one hand it’s a design philosophy, inspired by consumer apps and services that deliver useful data, content and insights to users on the go. On the other, it’s the technology, processes and use cases for turning big data into alerts, apps, and dashboards (the “last mile”) for business users within corporate environments. It is also meant to be taken literally – referring to the size of our data sets as well.
In a recent study I conducted at Digital Clarity Group, for example, we created the following definition that ties together a number of these themes: small data connects people with timely, meaningful insights (derived from big data and/or “local” sources), organised and packaged – often visually – to be accessible, understandable, and actionable for everyday tasks.