A Lens That Makes Big Data Tell Human Stories

Big data is on everyone’s lips these days, it seems. Unfortunately, most of the data generated is rarely harnessed. Sure, there’s useful data being captured on websites and social networks, but there’s also tons and tons of data just floating around us all day long with unrecognized value.

Think of the number of times a light switch gets flipped. That is data. Or how often someone saves a file. More data. Even though this data might not seem useful or actionable, it still has value because it can help tell a story about our lives as human beings.

After being self-employed for six years, I recently joined Ignite as a creative director. One of the main attractions is the opportunity to have a team of great people around me to help address bigger, more interesting ideas.

I like to tinker around with little projects to appease my curiosity, and having access to a newfound cache of data piqued my interest. One of the first projects I tackled was to find a way to visualize some of the daily data we create here at Ignite that seems mundane at first glance, but actually has a much richer human story hidden inside.

Big data is traditionally used to bring clarity to what may seem a random mishmash of information. Rarely is it used to create the opposite, an abstraction; but as I’ve learned, this can create some interesting results.

When advertising agencies compile data about themselves, it’s almost always concrete. You rarely see anything that tells an interesting story. Normally you see a lot of this:

One of our mantras at Ignite is to “Humanize.” When it comes down to it, the data that gets created in our office is generated by people, and finding a way to humanize digital data is one of my main goals on behalf of ourselves and our clients.

After some thinking, I had the idea of a project we’ve named Appstract. It’s a custom app that broadcasts and collects users’ mouse positions and transforms that information through a “digital paintbrush” to create a giant collaborative real-time painting, generated organically throughout the day as people move their mice.

Looking at our data through this lens, simple X-Y coordinates grow into a living piece of digital art that blossoms during the day: A digital thumbprint of each day’s efforts.

This is just one simple example of using big data in unexpected ways to help tell a larger story of people interacting with people, not just as a collection of ones and zeros.

Big data is great at creating actionable intelligence, but it can also be used to help tell the many hidden stories of your brand and customers in new and interesting ways.

We’ve opened up the source code so you can test our Appstract application at your company if you like. You can grab it here:

Server – https://github.com/ignitepartnership/appstract-server
Client – https://github.com/ignitepartnership/appstract-client