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Popular Analytics: Big Data for the Little Guy

Most of what we hear today about Big Data concerns the efforts of data scientists within institutions and corporations to leverage massive data sets and powerful analytics to make better operational decisions. But what about Big Data for you and me? Is it possible that we’re becoming data scientists ourselves, without realizing it?

For example, if you’ve ever typed a city or ZIP code into Weather.com before taking a trip, you’ve run a sophisticated analytic model against an enormous data set to make a decision – in this case, a decision about whether to pack a swimsuit, an umbrella or a down puffer jacket.

And weather analytics are nothing compared with the DIY Big Data analytics being used for fitness and nutrition. My Facebook newsfeed seems to be filled with Strava maps from people I kinda, sorta remember from high school, including analyses of the distances they’ve run, their average pace, calories burned, and even more arcane information I’m not sure I wanted to know. Ordinary folks use this information to decide where to train, how to modify their workouts, and whether or not to reward themselves afterwards with an IPA or a cup of green tea.

Is this all just a fad? Will we still be wearing Fitbits and Jawbone UPs a couple of years from now? Consider this: The experts at Gartner forecast that 20 million smart watches will be sold this year, and 26 million smart garments – clothing containing integrated sensors and a transmitter – will be sold in 2016. You thought that porkpie hat made you look smart, but I’ve got news for you: It’s pretty dumb next to an Under Armour E39 compression shirt.

Where is all this headed? Are we all becoming amateur data scientists – generating our own data, applying sophisticated analytics, and making smarter decisions about our health, personal finances, love life?

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