DJ Patil, Data Scientist in residence at Greylock Partners is planning his on-stage appearance at LeWeb2012 London. He says that he is going to do some ‚Äėlive science‚Äô. Which brings to mind explosive visions of crazy-haired men in white coats.
Patil himself is affable, chatty, friendly and does not look as though he‚Äôs about to set any test tubes on fire. Maybe.
We‚Äôve looked at big data¬†and the work of data scientists in the past. Hilary Mason, chief scientist at Bitly¬†told us at The Next Web conference that data science is just a buzz-word. Indeed it seems that data for academic research only is not such a useful pursuit and Patil feels that his work should lead to practical applications.
‚ÄúI focus on helping companies in our current portfolio which includes Pandora, Facebook, Groupon and LinkedIn. We look at ways of using that data, how to build products. I also work with some of our earlier stage companies like Instagram and others you‚Äôll be hearing about soon, both on the consumer and enterprise side,‚ÄĚ he says.
So what does that mean in practical terms and how does data mining sit with audiences today? ‚ÄúThe biggest thing about data now is how do you take it and return it back to the user in ways that are acceptable for privacy and all the necessary things that make people feel comfortable with that product,‚ÄĚ says Patil.
And with the increase and ease of current data gathering comes the requirement to be able to filter it for practical use. ‚ÄúToday working with data is easier, you don‚Äôt need something like Watson to do these things, you can use open source technology,‚ÄĚ says Patil. ‚ÄúWe have a tremendous amount of data vomit out there. What is really useful is if there are tools that can work with that data. To turn it from data to insight.‚ÄĚ
Pinpoint balance of privacy and use
Though many of us are ¬†now accustomed to choosing what data we make available and setting it to suit our comfort zone, Patil believes that companies should make a virtue of working with their data in sensitive ways.
‚ÄúOne of the most critical aspects of data is that companies need to be good stewards,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúSystems like some of the Amazon services would not work without gathering data. No one is selling that data though, so people feel comfortable with it. The data needs to be returned to the user with added value.‚ÄĚ
So if the data makes useful products and can direct the future moves of companies while the public is becoming used to contributing to a large pool of information; what exactly is meant when we say, ‚Äėbig data‚Äô?
‚ÄúBig Data is an ambiguous term,‚ÄĚ says Patil. ‚ÄúIt sounds like a confusing thing. The way to think about it is, it‚Äôs just data. We have to move from data to action. It doesn‚Äôt matter how big or how valuable the data is, it needs to be turned into actions.‚ÄĚ
So it seems there is a lot of merit in collecting data in sensitive ways, but not putting it to good use is a waste of effort, both for companies who gather it and the users who trust them with it.