Monday, September 29, 2014

Big Data

     With so many new technological innovations, it has become increasingly common to gather data about users and examine it in a geographical context. Big data references the databases that belong to large corporations such as telephone companies and even media application developers (FourSquare, Twitter, etc.)

This map represents the movement of Twitter users. These patterns can be studied to learn more about how information spreads in a geographical context.

     Big data is a powerful tool for business analysts as it allows them to study their consumers and their locations, to an extent. This in turn helps companies gain a more comprehensive view of their targeted audience. Some of the data that is collected by these companies is considered to be VGI, or Volunteered Geographic Information. This information is called volunteered because the user agrees to allow the company to collect information about the consumer's use of the product. An example of this symbiotic relationship between business and consumer can be seen in products like MapShare and Google MapMaker.

The map above depicts tourist density. The information was gathered through a photo sharing website / application called Flickr.

    While gathering information about users and consumers by collecting VGI can be useful, many individuals do not always approve of the data collecting that is done by third parties and as a result,
this gathering of data is also the cause of mistrust and irritation among users. In addition to mistrust, VGI is not a substitute for a random population sample. There is a lack of knowledge about the user outside of the fact that they are participating in this generation of information for a third party database. Due to this lack of knowledge about economic status, context and motives, it is difficult to make generalizations about the population who is contributing the data. 

     It has been determined that in order for this method of data collection to be effective, more emphasis must be placed on where the data is coming from and also the contextual conditions of the data. Also, it has been recommended that this practice be viewed as a communication between two participating parties, not just a sender-recipient partnership. As a result of this type of relationship, more in depth data will likely be more readily put forward because a relationship between company and user that contains more trust and communication will, in theory, yield more insight about the consumer to the company.

Fischer, F. (2012, April 1). VGI as Big Data. A New but Delicate Geographic Data-Source. Retrieved September 29, 2014. 


  1. You point about people not always knowing that they are volunteering geographic information is a good one. Many people don't realize how much spatial privacy they do not have and how you can take that data to make maps of movements. This would be an interesting topic for a final project.

  2. This is an interesting subject that I would also like to learn more about perhaps in the way that Dr. Slitine mentioned above. I think this VGI is an interesting way for us to see how GIS merges into other disciplines like marketing. I agree with the notion you brought forward that some people think VGI should be a more communicative, nurturing relationship, because that is how I believe marketing or customer service in general should be done.

  3. When you think about how dependent we are to technology now, it makes sense that company can use our personal devices to get out information about us. Is it not dangerous though? Maybe because, as you mention in your article, even though people are aware of their data being collected they do not really realize in whose hands they are going to finish. Now to talk about the data gathering I would like to see if it would be possible to represent the displacement of people per day in a health perspective. Nowadays, all smartphones have GPS that could help gathering the displacement data and with an application counting the stride rate we could input these two data into GIS and create a map. Thus, we could determinate the average walking distance and time of a population during a day. Then, from this map, multiple analysis could be carried out regarding health care issue.

  4. If data is being collected from social media sites like twitter as mentioned, I don't think it is an invasion of privacy. Things posted on the internet are available to anyone with internet access, so it is public information. Data collected from telephone companies, however, could be more invasive, depending on the data.People generally believe their phone calls and texts are private, so telephone companies giving out information about these things is an invasion of privacy.