Big Data—What is it and How is it Used?

Posted on Mar 28, 2013 · 3 min read

Here’s the thing about Big Data. Thinking about it kind of makes my head hurt. Trying to wrap my brain around Big Data is like trying to visualize the scale of the universe or imagining how many millions of bacteria are living in my kitchen sponge.

Stock Exchange big dataI’ve read that the amount of information on the internet doubles every three years and that every single day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data.  I had to do a Google search to find out how big a quintillion is. Apparently, if you made a carpet of pennies, quintillion pennies would cover the surface of the Earth. Twice. The mind boggles.

Luckily, what’s interesting about Big Data isn’t the actual data itself. It’s what we can do with it when we use apps, API’s and software to crunch those numbers and facts, chew all of the flavors out of them, and then spit out something interesting and useful. For example, our API bumps elbows with Big Data every day as it compares consumers’ provided information against our authoritative data sources and returns a yes or a no to SheerID’s clients to tell them whether or not their customer qualifies for an exclusive offer. Because retailers can verify that only qualified customers can redeem protected offers, they can offer their customers deeper discounts and better deals. So the next time you use Shindigz military discount or buy the academic version of Norton’s anti-virus software for your computer, you should actually thank Big Data for the extra cash lining your pocket. It blows your mind, doesn’t it?

Big Data isn’t only being used in e-commerce, although there are many POS technologies, fraud detection platforms, and business analytics software programs that couldn’t exist without it. As Jake (our CEO) pointed out in his article for WIRED, Big Data is also being used to identify at-risk students to improve their performance in school, monitor flu epidemics, and track patients’ health and symptoms. In the last week, stories have been published about how Big Data can improve urban planning, inform oncologists’ patient care decisions, and even help coaches decide which athletes to play and who to bench. Whether you see these developments as signs of progress or fodder for an incredible conspiracy theory, Big Data appears to be here to stay. As we go about our daily lives- shopping online, going to the doctor, watching YouTube videos, and talking on our cell phones- our individual actions are being aggregated into Big Data. I’m proud to be part of a company that is harnessing the power of Big Data in ways that provide tangible benefits to a few of the “data providers” themselves- teachers, college students, and military personnel and their families, to name a few.

Angela Modzelewski by Angela Modzelewski