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How is Big Data research changing lives?
4 November, 2016
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Making Data Fun

The concept of big data can be daunting; all that data from untold sources in quantities that it’s often not possible to contemplate. Then you have to try to understand the story that the data is trying to tell you. This raises the questions:

  • What tools do we use to extract the data?
  • What methods do we use to understand the data?
    Infographic example

    Source: KoeppelDirect via Forbes

Many people find numbers a nightmare. This feeling perhaps has its roots in Maths lessons at school. Who really enjoyed Maths anyway? OK, I’ll admit I did, but for most the answer is probably no.

When it comes to making data easier to understand a useful tool is infographics. Images like these are pleasing on the eye and can be used as a way of conveying a complex message in a clear and succinct manner. Advertisers have been doing it for years to get a message across.

The infographic extract shown is a great example of this approach. It shows a comparison, from 2012, between traditional television advertising compared with online advertising.

This KoeppelDirect full version of this advert shows the sheer quantity of statistics that can be displayed in a variety of forms, in a clear format to convey a compelling argument (albeit one which may now be out of date). Senior managers who may be making these decisions often don’t have time to read long detailed reports, so here  data scientists are taking the mantra ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ and making it their own.

If you’re trying to understand sentiment then the use of a word cloud can be a useful technique. The word cloud below was created using Twitter data on 21 October 2016, following a big data seminar.


The twitter handle used to extract and create the word cloud was #talkbigdata which had been promoted at the event. From this cloud it is easy to see what mattered to the attendees. The four words big, data, business and hindrance standout as the most important points. The graphic has extracted the data from the Twitter feed and highlighted what matters to the audience without the need for anybody to read every Tweet.

The use of infographics is also now slowly moving into the world of art. The more sophisticated the software becomes at creating the graphic the more sophisticated and pleasurable to the eye the output becomes. The graphic below is a great example of this trend showing the progression of the first 10000 digits of Pi by Christian IIies Vasile.

A visualisation of pi

Source: Cristian Ilies Vasile and Martin Krzywinski via Vice


In short, the tools available to data scientists are allowing the use of data in far more interesting and innovative ways. At the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre we can help organisations to make more effective use of their data. Displayed in the right way this newly analysed data can provide fascinating insights that are easily accessible to a wide range of audiences.

Blog post by Richard Skeggs (Business Data Manager at the Business and Local Government Data Research Centre), please email Richard if you’d like to discuss any of the content of this post.

Published 4 November 2016