My last column described my discovery of the word "consilience" as a terrific explanation of the intrinsic value of big data. The point was that more data is better, even if (in my words), "We're still digging through the same old manure in the same old way - but with a bigger shovel."
That got me scratching my head, wondering if there weren't a better word for "digging."
The classic language for dealing with lots of data includes data mining and data diving. These are fine phrases for the activity of looking for something in particular - some new pattern. I was looking for something that describes a more interactive relationship with data.
Discovery sounded good but that term has already been relegated to the act of tripping over a previously unknown correlation or pattern.
I needed a word for a brain activity that is more creative, more imaginative, more visionary. Mining, diving, and discovery imply that there is something buried or submerged, simply waiting to be uncovered (or discovered).
Granted, the analysts I know spend a good deal of time on that sort of work. Sadly, they spend an even greater amount of time cranking out voluminous reports that masquerade as useful information. But there's another activity that really gets their juices flowing and makes time fly because they are having fun.
It is an artistic endeavor. It is creative, exciting, engaging, a little wild sometimes, thoroughly engrossing, and when it results in an interesting, valuable, and useful insight, overwhelmingly rewarding.
I've asked dozens of people and have been handed lots of ideas, but they have simply tried to bend current terms of art to my new meaning. We need a new expression that doesn't carry the same data baggage as:
Data modeling. You model the flow of data in a business process so you can build a system to support it, or you build a mathematical model that explains an available data set in order to predict the future.
Data diving. Like "mining" only in this case we're looking for underground water rather than minerals.
Data sculpting. As Michelangelo put it, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."
Data munging. The act of getting multiple types of data into a similar enough format that they can be analyzed together. As Mike refers to it, "the painful process of cleaning, parsing, and proofing one's data before it's suitable for analysis."
Etc. That thing you say when you're tired of coming up with examples. (See: yada, yada, yada.)
And so I propose the following supplement to our data vernacular:
Canoodling. The act of getting up close and personal with data in a way that is most likely to beget new insights.
I remain inquisitively awaiting your linguistic recommendations...
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Jim Sterne is an international consultant focused on measuring the value of the online marketing for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, produces the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and is co-founder and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association.
March 19, 2014