Data: Big and Small

The age of digital media is the age of data. Every interaction, every transaction, every single action is trackable – capturable in a database. Most of it actually is captured by one organization or another. Personal computers brought in an age of data gathering, where our behaviour on the Net could be easily tracked by companies like Google.

On the web, Google is able to capture data on your behaviour:

  • what you search for
  • what you click on from the search results
  • what websites you visit (via the Analytics tracking code in each page)
  • what websites you visit (because you’re logged in via GMail)
  • who you know, and who you prioritize (via GMail)
  • where you are (via Maps)
  • what you watch (via YouTube)
  • what you listen to, photograph, share…
  • what you link to, what you do, because of single-sign on authentication
  • etc.

The phone takes this to a whole nother level. It shares an almost unimaginable amount of data with Google, Apple, or Microsoft, plus whoever your mobile carrier is.

Facebook wants you to use it as a single sign on so that it can tell what you’re up to when you’re not looking at Facebook.

Amazon wants to know everything about your media consumption. Actually, all your consumption.

Big data is a winner-take-all proposition.

News item: 70% of online dollars are captured by just 5 companies.

Even more importantly, the public valuation of these companies is far in excess of the actual revenue they generate – because of the value of the data they collect – in the past, in the present, and into the future.

Small data

Richard Nash, in his 2014 lecture “Small Data: Reading Yourself” ( talked about the possibility of “small data” about readers and reading – about individuals. It is personal data – all the “digital breadcrumbs” you leave as you go through the day.

Data transparency: Nash points out that as we learn to properly take care of our personal small data, we’ll be smarter about how we think about the Big Data that is gathered on a massive scale by companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook.

Small data is all around; the opportunities to capture and analyze it is everywhere. Google Analytics is a good example…

Personal tracking devices, like Fitbit, also provide personal-scale data (although they may also aggregate it to the company as well).

What does data collection miss? What does it not pick up?