Big data is becoming increasingly important to business and will impact every business in the near future. At its core, big data collects information relevant to your business, examines trends and correlations, and makes decisions based on them. This analysis can be used to improve products based on customer experience and usage, tailor sales approaches to specific audiences or even predict which employees might soon get a promotion.
Insights From Big Data
Big data insights are all about finding correlations and relationships, but it’s important to note that correlation is not the same as causation. Just because most romantic “missed connections” happen at Wal-Mart doesn’t mean you’ll meet the love of your life at Wal-Mart, for example. Here are four unusual discoveries that have come from big data.
1. Most romantic “missed connections” take place in a Wal-Mart.
Craigslist keeps track of quite a bit of data on its users, which allows it to tailor classified lists to the geographic locations where users live. Rather than dividing up a map of the United States by state, Craigslist separates it into numerous tiny regions, each small enough to be served by a single set of classified lists.
One such classified list is the “missed connections” board, where people on Craigslist can try to find that special person they hit it off with and then lost. In “Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), author and founder of dating site OKCupid puts a unique spin on what the data reveals about human behavior. One surprising discovery: Grouped clusters of regions often had the same “missed connection” locations in common. While California’s star-crossed singles almost get together in the gym and New England favors Subway restaurants, people in a huge swath of the United States miss their connections in Wal-Mart stores.
2. Social media algorithms can directly control your emotions.
Anyone who’s been on Facebook for any length of time knows that browsing the popular social media site can have an effect on your mood. You might be cheered up when you see that a friend is having a particularly good day or dismayed when troubling news circulates through your feed.
The concept of emotional contagion — one person’s mood spreading to others through interaction — has been around for some time, but scientists always believed that nonverbal cues were an important part of emotional contagion. However, a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrated that emotional contagion is possible through Facebook; in other words, what your friends post has a direct impact on your mood and emotional state.
Because Facebook uses algorithms based on engagement to determine what content to show you, highly emotional posts are more likely to be circulated through the feeds of others, contributing to emotional contagion.
3. When buying a used car, choose orange.
Buying a used car is a complex decision, and color should never be your primary reason for buying a car. However, every car comes with data that can be analyzed to identify trends useful for making purchasing decisions.
Data science firm Kaggle determined that it’s best to buy an orange used car. The theory: When somebody buys a car with an odd color (like orange), it’s likely that purchase is a form of self-expression. The previous owner was likely invested in the vehicle and probably took greater care of it.
4. People buy Pop-Tarts and beer before a hurricane.
Wal-Mart does its own data mining and analysis to predict what stores should have in stock and when. A week before Hurricane Frances made landfall in 2004, Wal-Mart mined the data from buying patterns before Hurricane Charley to determine what items had sold particularly well before previous hurricanes.
Wal-Mart’s discovery was unexpected. While beer is the top-selling product before a hurricane, strawberry Pop-Tarts increased in sales by seven times. The retail giant used this information to stock up on both so their customers could too.
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