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Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications – The Future of Big Data?

Future of Big Data Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

The Ideal Big Data Application Development Environment

Lets assume that your entire organization had access to the following building blocks:

  • Data: All sources of data from the enterprise (at rest and in motion)
  • Analytics: Any/All Queries, Algorithms, Machine Learning Models
  • Application Business Logic: Domain specific use-cases / business problems
  • Actionable Insights: Knowledge of how to apply analytics against data through the use of application business logic to produce a positive impact to the business
  • Infrastructure Configuration: High scalable, distributed, enterprise-class infrastructure capable of combining data, analytics, with app logic to produce actionable insights

Imagine if your entire organization was empowered to produce data-driven applications tailored specifically for your vertical use-cases?

Data-Driven Vertical Apps

banking Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

You are a regional bank who is under heavier regulation, focused on risk management, and expanding your mobile offerings. You are seeking ways to get ahead of your competition through the use of Big Data by optimizing financial decisions and yields.

What if there was an easy and automated way to define new data sources, create new algorithms, apply these to gain better insight into your risk position, and ultimately operationalize all this by improving your ability to reject and accept loans?

Retailer Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

You are a retailer who is being affected by the economic downturn, demographic shifts, and new competition from online sources. You are seeking ways of leveraging the fact that your customers are empowered by mobile and social by transforming the shopping experience through the use of Big Data.

What if there was an easy and automated way to capture all customer touch points, create new segmentation and customer experience analytics, apply these to create a customized cross-channel solution which integrates online shopping with social media, personalized promotions, and relevant content?

Telecommunications Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

You are a fixed line operator, wireless network provider, or fixed broadband provider who is in the middle of convergence of both services and networks, and feeling price pressures of existing services. You are seeking ways to leverage cloud and Big Data to create smarter networks (autonomous and self-analyzing), smarter operations (improving working efficiency and capacity of day-to-day operations), and ways to leverage subscriber demographic data to create new data products and services to partners.

What if there was an easy and automated way to start by consuming additional data across the organization, deploy segmentation analytics to better target customers and increase ARPU?

It Starts With The “Infrastructure Recipe”

Application Dev Team Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?OK. You are a member of the application development team. All you have to do is create a data-driven application “deploy package.” It’s your recipe of all the data sources, analytics, and application logic needed to insert into this magical cloud service that produces your industry and use-case specific application. You don’t need to be an analytics expert. You don’t need to be a DBA, an ETL expert or even a Big Data technologist. All you need is a clear understanding of your business problem, and you can assemble the parts through a simple-to-use “recipe” which is abstracted from the details of the infrastructure used to execute on that recipe.

Any Data Source

Data Source Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?Imagine an environment where your enterprise data is at your fingertips – no heavy ETL tools, no database exports, no Hadoop flume or sqoop jobs. Access to data is as simple as defining “nouns” in a sentence. Where your data lives is not a worry. You are equipped with the magic ability to simply define what the data source is and where it lives and accessing it is automated. You also care less whether the data is some large historic volume living in a relational database or whether it is real-time streaming event data.

Analytics Made Easy

Analytics Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?Imagine a world where you can pick from literally thousands of algorithms and apply them to any of the above data sources in part or in combination. You create one algorithm and can apply it to years of historic data and/or a stream of live real-time data. Also, imagine a world where configuring your data in a format that your algorithms can consume is made seamless. Lastly, your algorithms execute on infrastructure in a parallel, distributed, highly scalable way. Getting excited yet?

Focus on Applications With Actionable Insights

Actionable Insights Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

Now lets embody this combination of analytics and data in a way that can actually be consumed and acted upon. Imagine a world where you can produce your insights and report on them with your BI tool of choice. That’s kind of exciting.

But what’s even more exciting is the ability to deploy your insights operationally through an application that leverages your domain expertise and understanding of the business logic associated with the targeted use-case you are solving. Translation – you can code up a Java, Python, PHP, or Ruby application that is light, simple, and easy to build/maintain. Why? Because the underlying logic normally embedded in ETL tools, separate analytics software tools, MapReduce code, NoSQL queries and stream processing logic is pushed up into the hands of application developers. Drooling yet?  Wait, it gets better.

Big Data, Cloud and The Enterprise

Big Data Cloud Customized, Intelligent, Vertical Applications   The Future of Big Data?

Lets take this entire application paradigm and automate it within an elastic cloud service purpose-built for the organization. You have the ability to submit your application “deploy packages” to be instantly processed without having to understand the compute infrastructure and, better yet, without having to understand the underlying data analytic services required to process your various data sources in real-time, near real-time or in batch modes.

Ok…if we had such an environment, we’d all be producing a ton of next-generation applications…data-driven, highly intelligent and specific to our industry and use-cases.

I’m ready…are you?

Jim Kaskade serves as CEO of Austin-based Infochimps, the leading Big Data Platform-as-a-Service provider. Jim is a visionary leader within both large as well as small company environments with over 25 years of experience building hi-tech businesses, leading startups in cloud computing enterprise software, software as a service (SaaS), online and mobile digital media, online and mobile advertising, and semiconductors from their founding to acquisition.

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5 Questions Framing Data-Driven Decisions

5 Data Driven Decision Questions 5 Questions Framing Data Driven DecisionsWhile data-driven decisions is nothing new (remember the rise of “decision support systems” and “business intelligence”?), it does seem that enterprises have a new urgency these days: Enterprises that make data-driven decisions are gaining benefits ranging from better customer insights, higher sales, more efficient operations and lower costs. What’s not to like with that?

Today, the “volume, velocity and variety” of data that enterprises have at their disposal is mind-bendingly greater than just a few years ago. And, enterprises are embracing the kind of real-time decision making that does not just run the business, it runs the business smarter. Whether driving better customer engagement (and sales) or enabling more efficient operations, big data has become an essential asset for the modern enterprise.

Earlier in my career I was an operations research analyst – kind of an early-day data scientist. There were 5 questions I always made sure to answer regarding any project I undertook. These questions frame an analytic process that underlies making effective data-driven decisions, and I think they are as applicable today as ever.

  1. Do I understand the decision to be made, especially the business factors that make this decision important?
  2. Do I have a model that captures the decision process? I.e., do I have an analytic framework, mathematical description, appropriate algorithms, etc., that describe the decision to an appropriate degree of detail. Part of this is picking the right algorithms.
  3. Do I have the data? This is pretty obvious: if data is going to drive a decision, you need to have the data. Even in today’s environment of an overabundance of data, it’s still important to make sure you have data appropriate for the model and the decision.
  4. Do I have the necessary computational infrastructure? This used to mean, can I run this on my PC or do I need to get time in the data center? Today it means, how can I get a cluster of Hadoop servers pumping data into a NoSql database to drive my analytics. Today’s infrastructure is much harder to master.
  5. Am I producing results that are driving the decision? If so, great. If not, maybe I got something wrong in #’s 1-4. Repeat 1-4 until satisfied.

Questions 1 and 5 are about the business. Since you know your business better than anyone, you’re pretty much on your own for these. Questions 2, 3 and 4 are about the data, analytics and computational infrastructure to get you the answers you need. There are plenty of companies that can help you here, in whole or in part. The important thing is to not get bogged down in the infrastructure. That’s where the Infochimps platform really shines. As quoted from a recent TechCrunch article, “Infochimps is one of a growing ecosystem of companies that are programming the knowledge of data scientists, statisticians and programmers into applications that businesspeople can use.”

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Image Source: beafields.com

[Infographic] Taming Big Data from Wikibon

Opening with a Big Data market forecast, to ending with a shout-out for all industries to embrace Big Data as the definitive source of competitive advantage, the following infographic from Wikibon personifies Big Data as a beast (data volumes are growing exponentially) that can be tamed (thanks to new approaches for processing, storing and analyzing).  It includes real-world Big Data use cases, which I appreciated. I was most amazed by how “decoding the human genome used to take ten years, but can now be done in 7 days.”

The quote from Kevin Weil, the Director of Product for Revenue at Twitter brings the benefit of valuable Big Data insights home: “It’s no longer hard to find the answer to a given question; the hard part is finding the right question and as questions evolve, we gain better insight into our ecosystem and our business.”

Scroll down, geek out on the infographic, and if you want more, check out an oldie but goodie article:  6 Illuminating Big Data Infographics

Taming Big Data [Infographic] Taming Big Data from Wikibon

Did you notice the chimp within the Big Data forecast?

Thank you Wikibon for posting this!

84493d0d e63a 4f96 ae8b 01f76694dc55 [Infographic] Taming Big Data from Wikibon

The 3 Waypoints of a Data Exploration

Part of our goal is to unlock the big data stack for exploratory analytics.

How do you know when you’ve found the right questions? That you’ve gone deep enough to trust the answers? Here’s one sign.

The 3 Waypoints of a Data Exploration:

  • What you knew — are they validated by the data?
  • What you suspect — how do your hypotheses agree with reality?
  • What you would have never suspected — something unpredictable in advance?

In Practice:
A while back, a friend asked me about signals in the Twitter stream for things like “Spanglish” — multiple languages mixed in the same message.  I did a simple exploration of tweets from around the world (simplifying at first to non-english languages) to see how easy such messages are to find.

I took 100 million tweets and looked for only those “non-keyboard” characters — é (e with acute accent) or 猿 (Kanji character meaning ‘ape’) or even ☃ (snowman).

Using all the cases where there were two non-keyboard characters in the same message, I assembled the following graph.

Imagine tying a little rubber band between every pair of characters, as strong as the number of times they were seen hanging out together; also, give every character the desire for a bit of personal space so they don’t just pile on top of each other. It’s a super-simple model that tools like Cytoscape or Gephi will do out-of-the-box.

That gave this picture (I left out the edges for clarity and hand-arranged the clusters at the bottom):

3 Waypoints 1024x742 The 3 Waypoints of a Data Exploration
This “map” of the world — the composition of each island, and the arrangement of the large central archipelago — popped out of this super-simplistic model. It had no information about human languages other than “sometimes, when a person says 情報 they also say 猿.” Any time the data is this dense and connected, I’ve found it speaks for itself.

Now let’s look at the 3 Waypoints.

What We Knew: What I really mean by “knew”  is “if this isn’t the case, I’m going to suspect my methods much more strongly than the results”:

  • Most messages are in a single language, but there are some crossovers. After the fact, I colored each character by its “script” type from the Unicode standard (i.e. Hangul is in cyan). As you can see, most of the clouds have a single color.
  • Languages with large alphabets have tighter-bound clouds, because there are more “pairs” to find (i.e. The Hiragana character cloud is denser than the Arabic cloud).
  • Languages with smaller representation don’t show up as strongly (i.e. There are not as many Malayam tweeters as Russian (Cyrillic) tweeters).

What We Suspected:

First, about the clusters themselves:

  • Characters from Latin scripts (the accented versions of the characters English speakers are familiar with) do indeed cluster together, and group within that cluster. Many languages use ö, but only subsets of them use Å or ß. You can see rough groups for Scandinavian, Romance and Eastern-European scripts.
  • Japanese and Chinese are mashed together, because both use characters from the Han script.

Second, about the binds between languages. Clusters will arrange themselves in the large based on how many co-usages were found. A separated character dragged out in the open is especially interesting — somehow no single language “owns” that character.

Things we suspected about the connections:

  • Nearby countries will show more “mashups”.  Indeed, Greek and Cyrillic are tightly bound to each other, and loosely bound to European scripts; Korean has strong ties to European and Japanese/Chinese scripts. This initial assumption was partially incorrect though — Thai appears to have stronger ties to European than to Japanese/Chinese scripts.
  • Punctuation, Math and Music are universal. Look closely and you’ll see the fringe of brownish characters pulled out into “international waters”.

What We Never Suspected in Advance: There were two standouts that slapped me in the face when taking a closer look.

The first is the island in the lower right, off the coast of Europe. It’s a bizarre menagerie of Amharic, International Phonetic Alphabet and other scripts. What’s going on? These are characters that taken together look like upside-down English text: “¡pnolɔ ǝɥʇ uı ɐʇɐp ƃıq“. (Try it out yourself: http://www.revfad.com/flip.html) My friend Steve Watt’s reaction was, “so you’re saying that within the complexity of the designed-for-robots Unicode standard, people found some novel, human, way to communicate? Enterprises and Three Letter Agencies dedicate tons of resources for such findings”.

As soon as you’ve found a new question within your answers you’ve reached Waypoint 3 — a good sign for confidence in your results.

However, my favorite is the one single blue (Katakana) character that every language binds to (see close-up below). Why is Unicode code point U+30C4 , the Katakana “Tsu” character, so fascinating?

3 Waypoints Smiley The 3 Waypoints of a Data Exploration

Because looks like a smiley face.
The common bond across all of humanity is a smile.

6fefa857 2e95 4742 9684 869168ac7099 The 3 Waypoints of a Data Exploration

Is “Big Data” the Wrong Term?

It’s likely that, like myself, you have heard again and again about “big data“, its 3 V’s, and the Hadoop brand. Yes, volume, velocity, and variety of data are making it difficult to use traditional data solutions like BI cubes, relational databases, and bespoke data pipelines. The world needs new superheroes like Hadoop, NoSQL, NewSQL, DevOps, etc. to solve our woes.

Big Data Is Big Data the Wrong Term?

However, these new technologies and approaches have done much more than just solve the problems around petabytes of data and thousands of events per second. They are the right way to do data. That’s why I’m not convinced the term “big data” was a good choice for us to land on as an industry. It’s really “smart data” or “scalable data.” And despite my distaste for adding a version number to buzz phrases, even “Data 2.0” would be more apt.

If you are a CTO/CIO, system architect, manager, consultant, developer, sys admin, or simply an interested professional – my goal is to prompt some initial points on why big data constitutes a good approach to data management and analytics, regardless of the speed and quantity of data.

Scalable Data: Multi-Node Architecture and Infrastructure-as-Code

Multi-node systems with distributed, horizontally scalable systems are always the right way to do infrastructure, no matter the size of your data or the size of your IT team. This wasn’t always the case, but now multi-node systems are as easy to manage as single-node solutions. It’s so easy now because monitoring, logging, management software, and more are all baked right in; systems come to life in a coordinated fashion that hides all the complexity and scales as needed. You can test your infrastructure in the same way you test programming code. While manually testing a multi-node system may be difficult, testing a piece of code is straightforward.

One of the worst things that can happen to an IT team is having to manage major architecture changes. Using open source, multi-node technologies with an infrastructure-as-code foundation lets organizations grow organically and swap tools and software in and out as needed. Simply modify your infrastructure definitions, test your code, and deploy. Additionally, this kind of framework works perfectly with the DevOps approach to system management. Code repositories are collaborative and iterative – giving individual developers empowerment to directly manage infrastructure, while having the safeguards and tests in place to ensure reliability and quality.

Smart Data: Machine Learning and Data Science

You don’t have to have petabytes of data to begin implementing smart algorithms. To run your business more efficiently, you need to be predictive. You must forecast business and market trends before they happen so you can anticipate how to steer your organization. The companies that win will be the ones analyzing and understanding as much data as possible – building data science as a key competency. Big data tools are making it easier to work with data by providing tools like Mahout for machine learning, Hive for business intelligence queries, or R for statistical analysis, which can interface with Hadoop. Because of big data architecture, you can keep data fresh, use a larger swath of data, and use the newest, most powerful tools to perform the analysis and processing.

Agnostic Data: The Right Database for Each Job

New data pipelining frameworks enable real-time stream processing with multi-node scalability and the ability to fork or merge flows. What that means is, you can easily support multiple databases for multiple problems: columnar stores as primary data stores, relational databases for reporting, search databases for data exploration, graph databases for relationship data, document stores for unstructured data, etc. Because of data splitting/merging capabilities, and your DevOps infrastructure ensuring your databases have integrated monitoring and logging, the added burden of having more than one database is minimum. You just have to learn how to interface with the data through easy-to-use APIs and client libraries.

Holistic Data: Hadoop is Not The End All, Be All

Finally, let’s tackle Hadoop specifically. Hadoop is oriented around large-scale batch processing of data. But so much of what big data is includes databases, data integration/collection, real-time stream processing, and data exploration. Hadoop is not a one trick pony, but it’s also not the answer to every data problem known to man.

Frameworks like Flume, Storm, and S4 are making it easier to perform streaming processing such as collecting hundreds of tweets per seconds, thousands of ad impressions per second, or processing data in near real-time as data flows to its destination (whether a database, Hadoop filesystem, etc.). New database technologies are providing more powerful ways of querying data and building applications. R, Hive, Mahout, and more are providing better data scientist tools. Tableau, Pentaho, GoodData, and others are pushing the envelope with data visualization and big data dashboarding.


Big data software and frameworks are the right foundation for data + data integration and collection + data science + statistical analysis + infrastructure management and administration + IT scaling + data-centric applications + data exploration and visualization. Often regardless of data size.

Your organization benefits from adopting these best practices early and working with vendors that understand your company’s problem isn’t just “oh no, I have too much data”. It’s all about return on investment. The big data approach lowers overhead, enables faster and more efficient IT infrastructure management, generates better insights, and puts them to work in your organization.

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[Image Source]

Eating Towns and Drinking Towns

Trulia Restaurant Density Heatmap Eating Towns and Drinking Towns

In another well done data analysis from Trulia, the real estate technology company uses US Census data to map out the country’s bars and restaurants.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, San Francisco reigns supreme in the restaurant contest, with one restaurant for every 243 households in the city.  Trulia compares this data to the median price per square foot for for-sale houses and in that chart, it quickly becomes clear that in general, higher income provides for a greater ability to patronize (and support) a bustling restaurant culture.

Top Metros for Eating Out
# U.S. Metro Restaurants per 10,000 households Median price per sqft of for-sale homes
1 San Francisco, CA 39.3 $459
2 Fairfield County, CT 27.6 $222
3 Long Island, NY 26.5 $217
4 New York, NY-NJ 25.3 $275
5 Seattle, WA 24.9 $150
6 San Jose, CA 24.8 $319
7 Orange County, CA 24.8 $260
8 Providence, RI-MA 24.3 $146
9 Boston, MA 24.2 $219
10 Portland, OR-WA 24.0 $129

Note: among the 100 largest metros.

Can you guess which city in the US has the greatest number of bars per capita?  I’ll give you a hint – you can get drive-thru margaritas and the city is nicknamed “The Big Easy”.  Yup, good ol’ New Orleans ranks #1 with one bar for every 1,173 households.  Interestingly, the median price per square foot for for-sale houses is significantly lower than for San Francisco, which ranks #8 by this measure.  It looks like sustaining a thriving bar scene does not have the same income requirements as restaurants.

Top Metros for Drinking
# U.S. Metro Bars per 10,000 households Median price per sqft of for-sale homes
1 New Orleans, LA 8.6 $99
2 Milwaukee, WI 8.5 $109
3 Omaha, NE-IA 8.3 $79
4 Pittsburgh, PA 7.9 $91
5 Toledo, OH 7.2 $71
6 Syracuse, NY 7.0 $86
7 Buffalo, NY 6.8 $91
8 San Francisco, CA 6.0 $459
9 Las Vegas, NV 6.0 $69
10 Honolulu, HI 5.9 $390

Note: among the 100 largest metros.

Trulia Bar Density Heatmap Eating Towns and Drinking Towns

I’d love to see these maps overlaid for a compare and contrast of the various metro areas featured in this analysis.  Interesting, it looks like the middle of the country has a considerably higher density of bars (relative to the rest of the country) than it does restaurants.

The Value of an Olympic Medal

MeddlingWithTheGold 501bfb30b53e1 The Value of an Olympic Medal

Olympic medals may be a lot of facade (a gold medal only had 1.34% gold content?), but they can come with big cash prizes.  The US Olympic committee will dole out in upwards of $25,000 for a gold medalist.  Countries such as Italy or Russian who pay $182,000 and $135,000, respectively to their countries top performers.  Surprisingly, the UK, this year’s host, does not provide any monetary compensation to their athletes for bringing home the gold.

Curious: Time Delays and Rover Landings

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Anyone else stay up all night watching Curiosity land on Mars?

Thanks, I Love Charts!

Was An Olympic Record Set Today?

Olympic record 625x517 Was An Olympic Record Set Today?

Put together with Google Docs, github, and the New York Times Olympic API, this microsite from the Guardian US answers the question, “Was an Olympic record set today”?  It’s going to be mighty sad for about four years after August 12th. ;)

Thanks, Flowing Data for posting this!

Animated Map of the US

changingusa thumb Animated Map of the US

We found this little gem on Chart Porn.  It provides a neat visualization of the changing landscape of the United States since its inception.  We agree with the folks at Chart Porn that adding timeline control would make this map really awesome (and a useful study aid for American history).