Invitation: Join 'Human Face Of Big Data' Project

Series of events includes enormous crowdsourcing project, invites mobile users to help show how big data affects our everyday lives.

Jeff Bertolucci, Contributor

September 17, 2012

4 Min Read

There's much more to big data than simply data mining, petabytes, and Hadoop. The Human Face of Big Data, an ambitious project designed to show how massive volumes of information generated by billions of digital devices are transforming our lives, is just getting started--and you're invited to participate.

The project is the brainchild of renowned photographer Rick Smolen, who's best known for his "Day in the Life" photography books that capture different aspects of the human experience. For instance, his book, "One Digital Day: How the Microchip is Changing Our World," featured more than 200 tech-themed photographs taken on a single day in June 1998. And Smolen's 2007 title, "Blue Planet Run: The Race to Provide Clean Drinking Water to the World," provided visual insights into the growing global water crisis.

Now Smolen, through his production company Against All Odds Productions, is exploring the worldwide information explosion.

[ What role does big data play in the presidential campaigns? Read more at Big Data Equals Big Money In Presidential Campaigns. ]

The Human Face of Big Data is both similar to and very different from the photographer's earlier works. It's similar in that the end product will include a coffee table book featuring, in this case, big data-oriented photos shot by a team of 100 photographers dispatched by Smolen around the globe. But it's unique in that it aims to be the world's largest crowdsourcing project, one involving smartphone apps, a powerful big data management system--and even you, if you're interested.

Smolen, in essence, is using big data to tell the story of big data, says Brian Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing at RSA, the security division of cloud services provider EMC Corporation.

"He's built a smartphone application, and the vision is to have people all over the world, millions of people, use this application to capture a slice of their own life," Fitzgerald said in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

EMC is the lead sponsor of The Human Face of Big Data.

Starting September 25, smartphone users worldwide will be able to download The Human Face of Big Data app for iOS or Android. From that day through October 2, mobile device users can participate in what promises to be an enormous data-collection project on a global scale.

"They'll answer set questions about how they live--romance, relationships, work, and family," Fitzgerald said. The app gathers other information as well. Using a smartphone's GPS and accelerometer, for instance, it can track a participant's daily movements. The project's "Measure Our World" database will ingest this information, and analyze, interpret, and visualize the data.

Meanwhile, an EMC Greenplum cluster will work with Tableau Software's analytics engine to gather information from the Twitter fire hose on these and related topics.

On October 2, project organizers will hold "Mission Control events" in New York City, London, and Singapore, where they'll reveal informational insights gained from the big data experiment. So how did Smolen and EMC hook up?

"He came to us. He had gotten interested in big data through some work he was doing," said Fitzgerald. Smolen then met with Jeremy Burton, EMC's chief marketing officer. "Jeremy was very excited because EMC sees big data as a transformational trend going on in IT," Fitzgerald said.

"We've been looking for ways to tell that story--not just in super technical terms, but to a much broader audience. So it was the perfect meeting of our desire to find a platform to tell that story more broadly, and the work that Rick was doing."

Smolan's big data project will continue for some time. On November 8, a “Big Data Detectives” initiative, conducted in association with TEDYouth, will connect students in grades 6-12 worldwide for a series of data-collection activities. On November 20, "The Human Face of Big Data" book will be available. And a documentary on the project is scheduled for release in 2013.

One of the project's major goals is to show how big data is already changing the way people live, work, and play. "It's not just something that will happen in the back room of a big company. This idea of big data is going to be something that all sorts of people can leverage," said Fitzgerald.

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About the Author(s)

Jeff Bertolucci


Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek.

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