Data, Data Everywhere

And not a drop to drink....Unless you know how to get it from the well.

There has been much written and spoken lately about data, big data, privacy, data sharing and the like. I am often asked how I feel about "big data." My answer is almost always - LOVE IT!

Spoken Like a True Nerd

We used to have to go to the library and use the card catalog and then go find the book or periodical and dig further. Or, gasp, dial a phone to get answers. And we'd type reports on our Swingline Typewriters.

One of the reasons I LOVE big data is because I don't have to do any of the above. I can get so much information without ever leaving my office. Heck, I don't even need to get dressed!

This wonderful invention - the internet - has revolutionized how we get information and what we share.

It's all There!

Bigger nerds than me are out there getting data, culling it and posting it on websites. These are my people.

Can it be used maliciously? Of course. Can't everything? The trick is to be careful what you share and post online and to be ethical in what you gather online. I tell my students I don't post anything I wouldn't share in a classroom or with other professionals. I also use data and information online in the aggregate - that is I'm not going to say, "hey, Pauline Hoffmann likes dogs." I might generalize and say that "of FaceBook users, those who are between 45-55 years of age prefer dogs to cats 70 to 30%." (I just made that up - I don't know the statistic but could likely get it.)

Be Careful and Don't be Stupid

If it's private, don't post it anywhere online.

I have heard people say, "I posted it online but I have all my privacy settings in order," or "I don't know why anyone cares what I post."

For the most part, I don't care what you post - unless it's relevant to me or I'm planning to hire you. I would say "or date you" but I'm married and not doing that but you bet your bottom I would be Googling the crap out of you if I were looking to hire or date.

I do Google students - and others - if I am asked to write a letter of reference or if I have a position available like a graduate assistantship. If I don't like what I see, I will go to the next person or I won't write a letter on your behalf.

I also tell students and others to be consistent. I don't want to see FaceBook posts that are so different from your Twitter posts that I wouldn't know you were the same person.

I have had people say that they set up two different accounts - one is more professional and one is more personal. I have neither the time nor the patience to do that. What you see is what you get with me.

Pet peeve: Data, the word, is plural (datum is the singular). Please use the appropriate verbs. Data are - not data is. Thank you.

Use the data - or Someone Else Will

The data are out there. Use the data!

You can use old-fashioned research methods - and sometimes I have to resort to them - but there is so much information out there why not use it?

In an upcoming post I'll talk about how you might use specific data. A danger arises in having too much information - how do you cull it and make sense of it?

Stay tuned.