What Can We Be Thankful To Big Data For?

As we approach thanksgiving, we look at the good things that data has provided


This is the time of year when many of us come together to sit around a table, eat more turkey than is healthy and watch sports surrounded by family. However, it is also a time for reflecting on what we have and giving thanks for everything that has been achieved to bring it to us.

We wanted to, therefore, take this opportunity to look back at some of data’s achievements that are likely to be overlooked today.

Improvements in sports

A huge part of any Thanksgiving is sitting around and watching sports. Following the huge dinner and guaranteed arguments with family members, it is perhaps the most traditional way to spend the day.

However, few people realize that the reason they are seeing their team playing well or badly has a huge amount to do with how they are using data. Many sports, such as soccer, publicly claim that they don’t want to adopt new technology as it would take from the soul of the sport, but in reality, almost every professional sports team in the world now uses some form of analytics to improve their performances.

We can also analyze the success of failures of our teams thanks to considerably more data being available before, during and after the game. We can now see how far a player has run, how many tackles have been made, how they contributed to a success and even their top speeds on the field. Without big data technologies, this kind of thing would be impossible and we would be missing out on some of the most interesting elements of sports today.

Giving the underdog a chance and keeping everyone on their toes

Previously, the big companies won big because they had all of the brain power, the best technologies, and the most money to throw at a project. However, thanks to big data this is changing.

We are seeing an increasing number of companies turn to data to help them build the best teams, target the most susceptible markets and even undermine previous incumbents. It has meant that rather than resting on their laurels, market leaders now concentrate on making their products as good as they can be, because if they don’t there will be some more innovative company taking their spot.

Think about Uber, which is a company focused on data. They essentially took an industry that is hundreds of years old and turned it on its head by connecting freelance drivers to people who needed to get somewhere. Their system is built almost entirely on data, allowing fares to be estimated based on traffic conditions or demand, rating drivers to ensure a great service and tracking the GPS signal from both the driver’s phone and passengers phone to guarantee safety for both driver and passenger. It has allowed them to create an experience that’s far superior to traditional taxis despite them having a total monopoly less than a decade ago.


The world in the past 12 months has taken a series of shocks, from natural disasters through to world shaking political events. It has left people unsure of what to expect and how the future is going to look, but with the open approach to data that many governments and aid agencies have taken, we now have considerable transparency, allowing everybody access to information about how things are being run.

It is not only in the government sector either. The amount of data available to company leaders today means it is almost impossible to claim that they didn’t know about criminal activities happening in their companies. This gives a top-down impetus to make sure everything being done is above board. It is also helping companies protect their customers, with analytics now a linchpin to identifying and preventing fraud.

We have also seen significant details coming out in the media of wrongdoing by governments and companies that have come from the use of data mining. This has been seen in everything from the Edward Snowden files, that showed how the NSA was collecting data, to how Apple and Google have been paying tiny tax bills in various countries around the world. Without this access to data, these important public interest stories would never have surfaced and now the government and companies are facing pressure to do the right thing.

Making the world searchable

The single biggest thing that we should be thankful for is that data has allowed the world to become searchable. Without data, we would not have search engines like Google or Bing, who use data to help people find the information they need. It has allowed a child to now know more than the best read person only 50 years ago, as within seconds they can access almost any data about anything that has ever happened.

It has made our world a far more informed place, even if we tend to use the internet for pictures of cats or videos of people falling over, we still know exactly how to find the exact information we need. Without data this would be impossible, we would not have anything ranked, rather than the most relevant results appearing at the top and least relevant at the bottom, it would take hours to conduct a search, and the chances are you would need to wade through hundreds of pages before you got anything useful. 

Bean small

Read next:

City of Chicago: An Analytics-Driven City