Data Dilemmas

I don’t get data!

I point blank do not understand it. I look, and move excel spreadsheet columns around and pop a pie chart on to see if it looks good and still it makes no sense.

To me it’s like reading Japanese that has been written on top of Chinese, upside down, written in beige ink on white paper.

I work in marketing so I don’t mind gathering data and information, I find it almost therapeutic to have information such as postcodes, interests and where they heard about our event at my disposal. However when it comes to interpreting it into something of utility I lose my nerve and find myself instantly baffled. Maybe its laziness, maybe data is my Kilamanjaro and I don’t have the skills, training or frankly enthusiasm to climb it but in an ever more digital landscape where data is being collected at every opportunity I feel as if I need to overcome this and get productive.

One of the buzz-terms of 2014 and moving in to 2015 appears to be “big data”.

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

I can’t comprehend basic data and you want to make it bigger? I think I need to go back to basics. Define data into manageable chunks and then come onto big data.

A friendly google search defines data as “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis” or if you want to get philosophical “things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation”.

OK, that seems bearable. Breaking the purpose of data down to information gathered by which you can make reference makes perfect sense to me. If you gather your customers’ postcodes you know where your customers live and where to target your marketing. Simple, comprehensive. I understand that. So what is BIG DATA? (Apologies for the capitals).

Big data as again defined by google becomes “extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions”.

Thank goodness, computational lends itself to meaning I don’t have to sit there with my pencil and graph paper working it all out. But it does suggest you need to have digital skills to get code to fix the data for me. Maybe I should have attended our last ‘Get Your Head Around Code’ course for pointers of what to do.

Even better than that for me, who doesn’t have that many digital skills but is enthralled by the power of the digital world, ScraperWiki, an awesome Liverpool company, has made it their mission to help people make the most of data. They help individuals and businesses to get and make sense of data, either by workshops and one-to-one services or by using their website they have a number of tools to help you with this task. By simply uploading PDFs you get clean, sensible formats saving me particularly days of my work life.

Perhaps with a bit of perseverance, and a few more coffees with the people at ScraperWiki, data will become my friend.

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One thought on “Data Dilemmas

  1. I ran into this problem and found, while data and the tools to manipulate it are very exciting, it does help to go further and learn about maths and statistical science.

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