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April 19, 2013
Conversations with Data
By: Susie Lu

The question is no longer "How do we store big data?" but "What do we do with big data?" The simple truth is big data is useless to businesses unless they can effectively explore their data and draw actionable results. This is where data visualization plays its part. Successful visualizations optimize a person's visual perception for faster understanding of data and discovery of insight.

In the mode of exploratory data visualization, I see the model moving towards "conversations with data". This means a very iterative exploration, where users can ask questions of their data and receive answers fast enough that it mimics a back and forth exchange. With the research in building real-time solutions, we no longer have to wait a day, week, or month for data exploration. It can be done in seconds.

Below I provide a meta example of this conversation with data. Using Google Trends I was able to see the progression of "big data" into a trend over the last eight years.

The first point I want to emphasize is the speed in which I could see the information. My first question was "Just how big a trend is 'big data'?" In mere seconds I could see that from as recently as 2011 - 2013 the search frequency had increased by a factor of 10.

Interest over time

The next question was "How does 'big data' compare to other terms in the field such as 'hadoop'?". I was able to visualize this comparison in real time as my questions arose. In this case I was surprised to see that, historically, "hadoop" was actually searched more than "big data".

Interest over time

An important point is, the data was presented using visualizations instead of a table of numbers. The comparison of the lines gives me a very fast sense of "hadoop" being the most searched, but "big data" catching up with "hadoop" right at the beginning on 2013. If I had to rely solely on numbers, it would have taken me much longer to discover those comparisons. The final graph is an extension of the question "How does 'big data' compare to other terms in the field?" There is the addition of "nosql" and "infographic". In my mind "nosql" goes hand in hand with "big data". I was very surprised to see the searching of "nosql" was so much less than "big data" and that it plateaued instead of following the upward trend of the other search terms.
Interest over time

Even this simple example can demonstrate that being able to visually explore data through conversations is a very powerful tool. Imagine how your business would change if you could have conversations with your data. What would you ask?

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