Hallo Data-analyst, Data-user, Data-producer or Data-curious — whatever your role, if you have the slightest interest in data, you’re welcome to this blog!
This is the first post and as is customary, it needs to tell what the whole blog is about. Well, data. Of course! But it aims to do so in an innovative, and hopefully useful, way.
Predictably, there will be a lot about Big Data. Our societies, economies and businesses are discovering data as a gold mine. It was already known that information has great economic value — and that markets plagued by information imperfections or asymmetries are bound to produce inefficiencies. But it wasn’t yet known how much efficiency can be gained when huge amounts of information can suddenly be released. That’s precisely what is happening now — an unprecedented abundance of digital traces of our daily activities being recorded through the Internet, mobile devices, and all sorts of electronic equipment. Economists and managers are trying to predict the consequences — and for now, they see the promise but do not yet have a definite answer.
Data doesn’t just mean Big Data, though. This blog is grounded in the social and economic sciences which have always used data as a basic ingredient. Data from official and public-sector statistics have long set the standard, and access to these data is ever more in demand today. Social scientists often collect their own data too, typically through surveys, questionnaires, interviews and participant observations. These are certainly not “big” data: if public-sector statistical tables can contain a few thousand observations, researchers’ surveys rarely include more than a few hundred, sometimes just dozens. Qualitative studies may consist of eight interviews.
Big Data is also taking the social sciences by storm. Data that can be retrieved, saved, coded and processed much faster, much more easily and in much larger amounts than classical records, are obviously appealing. And yet, there has been no massive shift of social scientists from “Small” to “Big”. It’s not just lack of the specific skills needed to handle Big Data, as some may maliciously think — economists who are among the most computer-literate and maths-savvy of all social scientists, are also among the least enthusiastic users of Big Data! The reality is that for all their attractiveness, Big Data have serious limitations; and for all their shortcomings, “Small Data” still offer untapped opportunities to gain insight into the workings of individual behaviors, markets, businesses and societies.
This blog is about all this. Small Data, Big Data, and the different things we can learn from them. Data from the Internet and social media, a new tool to understand social cohesion in its computer-mediated form. Social network data. Open data from governments. Major European surveys. And yes, researchers’ tiny studies.
Data, big and small — that’s all it is about.