Social Data Analysis

Tufte Poster

A great visualization from an Edward Tufte seminar.

Today we have an editorial originally published on June 24, 2007. It is being republished as Steve is traveling.

I haven’t been a big proponent of BI as a technology that I think will catch on and become the focal point for many businesses. It’s not that it doesn’t work, but it’s expensive, it’s complex, and it requires a long term investment. While I’m not sure what to do about the last two with today’s IT folks and executive management, I do know that Microsoft and others are helping with the first one. So when I was this item about social data analysis using a new tool from IBM, I became a little intrigued. It’s an interesting idea for the amateur BI person that may be looking for an easy way to examine their data. It’s certainly better from the manual calculations I did in Economics to do regression analysis of data. We often didn’t even have graphics. That is if you don’t count my pencil and graph paper.

This is a good outgrowth of the open source ideas of programming. It’s often said that many eyes on a program in the community model, produce a better piece of software. After all, developers work harder if they know hundreds or thousands of people will look through their code and more bugs are likely to be found because more people are working on the problem. I think that’s what IBM is trying to do here: get many people to examine data.

While the sample visualizations tend to look like something just thrown together by people, I can see as graduate students, government officials, and others looking at lots of public data, and data that doesn’t necessarily need to be secure, you could possibly get some real help on problems.

And maybe the most important thing, this gets a lot of people using the same tools. From what I’ve seen of many BI tools, they’re expensive and there are lot of choices, so trying to facilitate a wide reaching data analysis program could be hard, even among universities, each of whom might have their own software.

While I’m not sure about BI catching on as a mainstream, every company has it, technology, I do think it’s very cool and it’s application to a wide range of problems is likely to give us some new solutions.

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