Five Surprising Uses of Big Data: From Tracking Potty Mouths to Winning Fantasy Football Games

When you think Big Data, you probably think Web site analytics, considering Google got the phenomenon going some 10 years ago. Then you might think of social and e-commerce sites, such as Facebook and Amazon, and retail giants like Walmart, using the technology to boost site traffic and sales. The Big Data craze has taken some unexpected turns, however. Here are some surprising uses you might not have thought of, culled from recent headlines on the Web.

Swearing Behavior On Twitter and the Comedic Value of Big Data

I'm not going to link to this article by Nathan Roberson, because it contains some thinly disguised references to comedian George Carlin's famous "seven dirty words" that you couldn't say on TV--and this is a G-rated Web site.

Suffice it to say there's an infographic out there that shows the results of a survey of Twitter traffic from July 31, 2011, to July 30, 2013, measuring the use of the famous seven words. It posits the question, "Which U.S. State has the Foulest Mouth on Twitter?" The answer: California had the most "dirty tweets," but Rhode Island had the highest "Filthy Mouths Per Capita" rating. Thank you so much, The Marketing Robot, for the infographic reporting this enlightening information.

Hollaback! Brings Big Data Tools to Street Harrassment Storytelling

Hollaback is a mobile app that lets users in New York City report harrassment incidents, such as groping or hassling of females. Supported by the Knight Foundation, the program gives victims the option of including demographic information such as the location of the incident and any formal reporting process undertaken by the victims, as reported in this article. The report data is fed into the CouncilStat citizen reporting system that's usually used to complain about potholes, noise and such, so it gets to city council members. The project uses the collected data to identify trends and trouble spots and lobby for appropriate preventative actions.

"For example, if we find out this is happening most often to 16-year-olds, we will focus our energy on educational programs in high schools and middle schools," said program co-founder and executive director Emily May. "If we find out that most of the harassment is happening in the subways, we will launch a public service campaign. If we see that the majority of this is happening outside Penn Station, we’ll work with community members to do a safety audit of the surrounding area, looking for issues like insufficient street lighting that may be creating an unsafe environment."

If you're a male and haven't thought of this as much of a problem, you can read some scary, first-hand incident reports and see data visualizations of the incidents. May said the program is expanding into other communities.

Former Convicts Make Bad Employees--and Other Hiring Myths Big Data Expose

This article by Jim Meyerle shows how, "Used in the right way, Big Data technology can decode factors that contribute to smarter hiring and optimal employee performance." Meyerle started a company called Evolv with Max Simkoff to collect and analyze data to help employers hire the best job candidates. In doing so, they found out much of the accepted wisdom about factors that make the best candidates was actually untrue. Among these revelations: job-hoppers don't necessarily make for bad employees, nor do ex-convicts.

A few more myths debunked through the magic of Big Data include:

  • "Self-proclaimed 'rule-followers' will act accordingly"
  • "Employees distracted by social media/technology are less productive"
  • "If an employee commutes a far distance, she's less likely to stay"

Meyerle said, "We observed that success was clearly not about hiring and managing a workforce by intuition--it was about building a high-performing workforce using objective facts, hard data, and continuously using that data to improve decisions."

Another interesting finding that really hit home for me (because that's where I work): "Data analysis shows that median tenure for work-at-home employees is 28 percent higher than for their in-office peers." Hope the boss is reading this.

Big Data's Powerful Effect on Tiny Babies

This CNBC article reports on the Artemis Project. The program collects data from medical monitors to spot trends and help improve health care of premature babies.

The program was started in 2009, the brainchild of Carolyn McGregor, the research chair of health informatics at the University of Ontario's Institute of Technology.

A former banking and retail consultant, McGregor was specializing in analyzing vast amounts of data and finding patterns. She related how her brainstorm came when a doctor showed her how he went on rounds with a piece of paper that had medical monitor information recorded previously. She wondered about the data being presented real-time by the flashing lights on the monitors. As the article quotes her: "And I thought, with my background, with all these things we were doing to watch shopping behavior, why can't we do the same thing with these monitors. Surely there was a message we were missing."

The project started out collecting and analyzing data from neonatal monitors to track heart rates of premature babies and relate that data to instances of infection. Now doctors can use the data to catch early clues about possible infections a full day before babies would show symptoms. The success of the Artemis Project prompted other hospitals to join the study and expand its scope.

Inside the Huddle: How Big Data Is Unlocking Fantasy Football Insights

Bill James is the pioneer of data analysis in baseball, of course, but Fantasy Football is so much cooler. This article on an Intel site reports on a YouTube video of an interactive discussion about Big Data and fantasy football, featuring NFL Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice and some others. "Whether you are a veteran player or a first-time team owner, Intel reports that 75 percent of you demand real-time, detailed Big Data in order to upgrade your draft and team management formulas," the article states. "In fact, two-thirds of those polled shared that technology is the key component to assisting with managing your team or teams and winning." (No news to me: I'm tied for first place in my league. It's all about the data.)

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.