Comic Book on Big Data from Al Jazeera America

Online graphic novella, Terms of Service: Understanding Our Role in the World of Big Data, does an excellent job of sorting out the slippery slope issues of big data collection–our willingness to hand over our data to companies for our own benefit and what the trade-offs are. The 46-page work is by Josh Neufeld and Michael Keller of Al Jazeera AmericaI  learned about Terms of Service from a recent tweet.  Last week The New School’s Trebor Scholz (@TreborSterms2 posted “I can’t wait to read this comic book about big data with my seminar.”  That sparked my interest and I was not disappointed.  This comic book is a really painless way to understand what’s at stake with data tracking practices and how we got to this point.  Even when you know though, what to do, what to do. In his report on the Public Radio International interview in November that he had with the authors, producer Bradley Campbell adds a dose of realism when he confesses that even though there is a strong movement against Google Street View in Germany and other tech firms in other parts of  Europe (which the Neufeld and Keller point out),  “still, you’re pretty much followed wherever you go. I had that experience traveling through Scandinavia. On one hand, I wanted to have a private vacation and not let any companies know my location. But I also wanted to use Google Maps and Google Translate and post photos to Facebook for friends and family to essentially travel with me. So what did I choose? The latter. Of course.”

Big Data for Media

Just out, a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (University of Oxford) report titled Big Data for Media. Authored by Martha L. Stone, the 33-page report, which looks at the big data phenomenon in the media sector, grew out of interview research with publishers, broadcasters, data scientists, and academics as well as two “Big Data for Media” London-based conferences in 2013 and 2014.

“For newspapers, television, magazines and Internet-only publishers, Big Data strategies can include audience analytics to enable a better understanding and targeting of customers; tools to understand public and private databases for journalistic storytelling; tools to manage and search the exploding amount of video, social media and other content; tools to target advertising and ad campaigns; tools to automate the production of text and video stories, tools to identify waste and enable efficiencies; and much more….While media industries are learning a lot from each other about Big Data, they are also increasingly drawing insights from other sectors beyond the media.” —Report’s introduction


Case studies of various media outlets make up the meat of the report.  Outlets include the Huffington Post, Buzz Feed, Financial Times and, dunnhumbly, Sacramento Bee, Archant, BBC, and CNN.  The pages are data rich in the form of pie and bar charts and other visuals.

Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS)

In Big and broad social data and the sociological imagination: A collaborative response published in Big Data & Society, the new open access journal from Sage (July-December 2014 vol. 1 no. 2) authors Williambd&s Housley, Rob Proctor, Adam Edwards, Peter Burnap, Mathew Williams, Luke Sloan, Omer Rana, Jeffrey Morgan, Alex Voss and Anita Greenhill discuss the challenges of big data to sociologists. The “adoption of a new generation of distributed, digital technologies and the gathering momentum of the open data movement,” according to the authors, grounds the work of the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS) project.

What is the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS)? Based in the UK, it is made up of a team of collaborators from Cardiff, Warwick and St. Andrews Universities (by and large the above authors) whose aim is to bring together “social, computer, political, health, statistical and mathematical scientists to study the methodological, theoretical, empirical and technical dimensions of social media data in social and policy contexts.” COSMOS

These collaborators keep a watchful eye on ethical issues  related to the new methodological tools being developed to harvest and evaluate digital data.

Publications include the COSMOS Online Ethics Resource Guide which is brief but rounds up an up-to-date bibliography on internet research ethics, including the 2012 Recommendations report by The Association Of Internet Researchers (AOIR).

COSMOS is also an open source software platform developed by the Project to access and analyze social media and other forms of digital data. Use of this software–they claim it requires no programming ability–is free to academic or non-profit researchers.