Hilary Mason, co-founder of HackNY and former data scientist for Bitly, argues that new technology makes it possible to “study human behavior at the scale at which that human behavior is actually occurring.” In other words, big data holds vast potential to tap consumer insights.
The Human Element
Mason double-majored in English and computer science at Grinnel College. According to a recent OZY article, this foray into literature and philosophy informed her professional development enough that time spent at Bitly focused on broad strokes of human behavior and interaction, “looking at how people in different places at different times responded to breaking news stories or viral videos of cats cuddling bunnies.”
She also believes it’s possible to take big data and tailor it to the individual. For example, new sites can provide snippets of content for avid readers but longer introductions for newcomers — but what does this kind of individual attention look like in practice?
Recently, a leading credit card company rolled out a new real-time risk management system to help reduce fuel thefts. When a consumer inserts their card at a gas pump, the system analyzes over 500 pieces of data including past transactions and fraudulent activity to create a “risk score.” Score high enough and gas station attendants are notified, encouraging them to ask for further verification.
Seeing the Light
Data scientists like Hilary Mason see data as a kind of Holy Grail for human behavior; gather enough and large-scale patterns emerge. Other companies, meanwhile, view data as a way to safeguard individual users by mitigating risk.
For businesses looking to leverage big data for actionable consumer insight, the key is clarity of vision — knowing what data is required to achieve your goal. In most cases, the ideal endpoint is a combination of Mason’s big-picture view and targeted analysis; predicting customer behavior while still speaking to individual needs.
The future of big data? Finding the balance.