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4 Ways to Embrace Big Data

Here's a handful of useful tools to collect the kind of data you need to make better business decisions.
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I've spent most of the last four months finishing the manuscript for my fifth book, Too Big to Ignore: The Business Case for Big Data. In this post, I'll share some data collection methods that may help your business make better decisions.

What if there's existing data on the Web that you'd like to easily gather and view? You could cut and paste, but there has to be a better way, right? Check out Mozenda, a data extraction service. Its software can "scrape" data from a wide variety of sources on the Web.

That's fine if there's existing data you'd like to grab, but what if you need to generate your own data? Two sites here are very useful. The first, Mechanical Turk, is a crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that matches buyers and sellers. Want to submit the title of your book for a vote? Mechanical Turk is a little-known part of Amazon that incentivizes people to provide data. "Requesters" set up Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) and offer small rewards for voting. In a nutshell, Amazon uses human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.

Not sure if the design of your homepage is working? Run an experiment--Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google all do this. (There's a high degree of science behind everything on these company's pages, up to and including the color of fonts.) Optimizely allows users to perform their own A/B testing. Over the course of a few weeks, generate metrics on which version of your homepage generates more traffic, lowers bounce rates, and the like. Author Eric Ries of The Lean Startup actually used this to convince his publisher that some of its covers and titles just didn't work. (Of course, Google AdWords is still also capable of performing de facto A/B testing on a wide variety of things.)

And let's not forget surveys. There are many online tools like SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, and others. I'm a big fan of Wufoo. This über-easy site lets you create powerful forms, online surveys, and event registrations. Without getting all statsy, though, understand that online surveys typically need to be taken with a 20-lb. bag of salt. Use them as a guide, not gospel.

Simon Says

Some say that data is the new oil. You'll get no argument from me. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and other companies are extremely valuable and successful in no small part from their exceptional data management, collection, and analysis methods. All else being equal, in 2013 and beyond, companies that understand and take advantage of Big Data will do better than those that don't.

What say you?

Last updated: Dec 11, 2012

PHIL SIMON | Columnist | Author and tech consultant

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of six management books, including The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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