Introduction: Big Data’s Big Ideas

The big data space is maturing in dog years, seven years of maturity for each turn of the calendar. In the four years we have been producing our annual Big Data Now, the field has grown from infancy (or, if you prefer the canine imagery, an enthusiastic puppyhood) full of potential (but occasionally still making messes in the house), through adolescence, sometimes awkward as it figures out its place in the world, into young adulthood. Now in its late twenties, big data is now not just a productive member of society, it’s a leader in some fields, a driver of innovation in others, and in still others it provides the analysis that makes it possible to leverage domain knowledge into scalable solutions. 

Looking back at the evolution of our Strata events, and the data space in general, we marvel at the impressive data applications and tools now being employed by companies in many industries. Data is having an impact on business models and profitability. It’s hard to find a non-trivial application that doesn’t use data in a significant manner. Companies who use data and analytics to drive decision-making continue to outperform their peers.

Up until recently, access to big data tools and techniques required significant expertise. But tools have improved and communities have formed to share best practices. We’re particularly excited about solutions that target new data sets and data types. In an era when the requisite data skill sets cut across traditional disciplines, companies have also started to emphasize the importance of processes, culture, and people.

As we look into the future, here are the main topics that guide our current thinking about the data landscape. We’ve organized this book around these themes:

Cognitive Augmentation
The combination of big data, algorithms, and efficient user interfaces can be seen in consumer applications such as Waze or Google Now. Our interest in this topic stems from the many tools that democratize analytics and, in the process, empower domain experts and business analysts. In particular, novel visual interfaces are opening up new data sources and data types.
Intelligence Matters
Bring up the topic of algorithms and a discussion on recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) is sure to follow. AI is the subject of an ongoing series of posts on O’Reilly Radar. The “unreasonable effectiveness of data” notwithstanding, algorithms remain an important area of innovation. We’re excited about the broadening adoption of algorithms like deep learning, and topics like feature engineeringgradient boosting, and active learning. As intelligent systems become common, security and privacy become critical. We’re interested in efforts to make machine learning secure in adversarial environments.
The Convergence of Cheap Sensors, Fast Networks, and Distributed Computing
The Internet of Things (IoT) will require systems that can process and unlock massive amounts of event data. These systems will draw from analytic platforms developed for monitoring IT operations. Beyond data management, we’re following recent developments in streaming analytics and the analysis of large numbers of time series.
Data (Science) Pipelines
Analytic projects involve a series of steps that often require different tools. There are a growing number of companies and open source projects that integrate a variety of analytic tools into coherent user interfaces and packages. Many of these integrated tools enable replication, collaboration, and deployment. This remains an active area, as specialized tools rush to broaden their coverage of analytic pipelines.
The Evolving, Maturing Marketplace of Big Data Components
Many popular components in the big data ecosystem are open source. As such, many companies build their data infrastructure and products by assembling components like Spark, Kafka, Cassandra, and ElasticSearch, among others. Contrast that to a few years ago when many of these components weren’t ready (or didn’t exist) and companies built similar technologies from scratch. But companies are interested in applications and analytic platforms, not individual components. To that end, demand is high for data engineers and architects who are skilled in maintaining robust data flows, data storage, and assembling these components.
Design and Social Science
To be clear, data analysts have always drawn from social science (e.g., surveys, psychometrics) and design. We are, however, noticing that many more data scientists are expanding their collaborations with product designers and social scientists.
Building a Data Culture
“Data-driven” organizations excel at using data to improve decision-making. It all starts with instrumentation. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it,” says DJ Patil, VP of product at RelateIQ. In addition, developments in distributed computing over the past decade have given rise to a group of (mostly technology) companies that excel in building data products. In many instances, data products evolve in stages (starting with a “minimum viable product”) and are built by cross-functional teams that embrace alternative analysis techniques.
The Perils of Big Data
Every few months, there seems to be an article criticizing the hype surrounding big data. Dig deeper and you find that many of the criticisms point to poor analysis and highlight issues known to experienced data analysts. Our perspective is that issues such as privacy and the cultural impact of models are much more significant.

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