Average transaction per street in Madrid

Trying to understand big data – World

Average transaction per street in Madrid

Average transaction per street in Madrid © BBVA

The amount of collected data worldwide grow constantly since they are increasingly being gathered by ubiquitous information-sensing tools, like mobile devices, software logs, cameras, microphones and wireless sensor networks. Once viewed as residues of our diverse activities, some see data today as the new DNA of the twenty-first century. Data surround and soak our daily life thanks to their ability to transfer high volumes of information and levels of complexity and could influence our life by the algorithms they can feed.

But our capability to generate data has far exceeded our ability to understand them, as, without been contextualized, the large amounts of numbers are not meaningful for most of us. Besides, data are vertically collected and read, whereas a transversal and horizontal interpretation is needed, under the concept and philosophy of Open Data. We need filters to distil information, skills to decode, and tools to visualize the meaning of these large volumes of data, in order to extract the value that they enclose. Value that could have an extraordinary influence in the quality of life of the citizens, as it could help by example to bridge the gap between users and service providers.

It is about connecting a graphical and interactive interface on a database, which can illustrate the information contained in the database in a visual and understandable manner. Data visualization can also gain perspective on the data and manage their level of detail by focusing on geographical scales, rearrange values by topic and filter by parameters. Different features can reveal underlying trends and long-term changes hidden in the data. Confronted with the volume of data that we face today, conventional static graphics are not enough to bring us clarity. New visual and interactive tools have to be developed to make sense of the data. It is not only to make nicer graphics, it is rethinking the way of understanding, working and communicating the data. This new interpretation can give the chance of a better decision making process from both, public and private sectors strategic vision.

The research on urban development has started to look at ways to handle, decode, contextualize and visualize this available data. Mobility and transport patterns, commerce, communication, leisure, how will big data change the cities? What can big data reveal and what it can not reveal? But there are also important question to be asked and answered about the big data approach: about the ownership of the data and privacy of the people, about access and control, about uses and exploitation of the data? Not everybody will have the necessary tools and training to decode and use this hidden information. Who will make sure that is used for the right purposes and who will define the general framework of handling the data?

As an example of possible data visualization the  BBVA Innovation Center published a video on its website made in partnership with the MIT Senseable City Lab on its joint research on the use of information to create new urban services.

The video covers purchasing movements in Spain over Easter Week of 2011. It shows the character of spending patterns of four categories of points of sale (fashion, bars and restaurants, food stores/supermarkets and gas stations) throughout the day across different Spanish regions and cities.

Juan Murillo Arias of the BBVA Labs-Smart Cities explains: “BBVA Big Data project tries to make an intelligent use of information that up to now remains underused, in order to identify hidden relationships, hidden demands. Now it is already possible to measure the impact of an event, or to discover new opportunities for the citizens and the institutions, increasing the survival rate for businesses, allowing rational use of public resources, higher job creation rates and proving after all the value that is stored in transactional data, combined with many others sources of information.”

Author: Christian Horn is the head of the architecture and urban planning office rethink

Graphics and data visualisation by BBVA Innovation Center

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