(Not-so-big) BIG DATA

Crampton et al. (2013) Beyond the geotag: situating ‘big data’ and leveraging the potential of the geoweb.


Crampton et al. (2013) presents an analytical study of the intersection of big data and GIScience via the medium of geolocated tweets. The authors recognize that atheoretical analyses of the geoweb is limiting the expansion of GIScience research and identify five ways through which to remedy this shortcoming.

Using the tweets accumulated through the #lexingtonpolicescanner (also #LPS), Crampton et al. assessed the spatio-temporal phenomenon of data production. They observed spatial and temporal spikes corresponding to how the event evolved over time and through the channels of social media.

Although the bridge to geography and GIScience is established, the connection to big data is much more tenuous. Crampton et al. remark that their analysis “emphasize[d] that the informational richness of these data is often lacking” in typical big data analyses –those which focus on issues of volume, velocity, and statistical complexity (2013: 137). Perhaps this is my own naïveté when it comes to the subject of big data, however, from my understanding the lack of informational richness (due to noise), unfathomable data quantities, and overwhelming speed of dataset creation are the definitive features of big data. Big data is supposed to challenge the conventional methods of statistical analysis due to these unprecedented conditions. I doubt 12 590 tweets would constitute a ‘big’ dataset. Indeed, Crampton et al. repetitively state that their analysis may not qualify as ‘big data’. I suspect the authors were caught up in the hype of big data. If true, this very article would exemplify the phenomenon of ‘trend spam’ through which unrelated—or loosely related—subjects ride along in the wake of a popular label.

One of the more intriguing findings of this article is that certain agents, particularly popular websites, may act as catalysts in the (re)production of data. Crampton et al. note that publicity on Mashable.com sparked created a noticeable spike in the use of the #LPS hashtag. It would seem that Tobler’s first law of geography is applicable to both physical and virtual space.




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