Visualizing big data is tricky enough – so can you imagine what it would be like trying to photograph it? Line after line of HTML codes and financial transaction data – this isn’t exactly the most enticing subject material from a photographer’s perspective, but that hasn’t stopped renowned photojournalist Rick Smolan from attempting what will be his most ambitious project to date – a dramatic photo essay of big data and what it means to us all.
The Human Face of Big Data (HFOBD), as the upcoming project and book is called, will attempt to shed light on how the average person creates and interacts with the information in the world around them, not by focusing on the data itself, but on the people who use that data. And for that reason, it will only succeed if you’re willing to play your part.
The project is sponsored by EMC, which has invested heavily in its Big Data business. The company acquired analytic database-maker Greenplum in 201o and earlier this year rolled out a slew of Big Data training and education resources under the aegis of its Global Services division. Organizing The Human Face of Big Data is a company called Against All Odds Productions that specializes in the execution of crowdsourcing projects on a global scale, combining state-of-the-art technology with compelling storytelling to shed light on some of the most important topics affecting humanity today.
The project begins in earnest on September 26, when The Human Face of Big Data smartphone application goes live to participants in over twenty nations across the world. It’s hoped that as many as 10 million volunteers will download the app and use it to help the project organizers create a ‘snapshot’ of how data is used in everyday life, broken down into five categories; business, crime, environment, health and society. The fun aspect in all of this is that, as well as gathering data from the phone itself, the app will also ask participants a series of specific questions each day – everything from mundane aspects about their lifestyles, to more intriguing and personal questions about sex, dating, sleep patterns, secret dreams and trust. After they’ve given their answers, participants will be able to compare them with those of other participants.
Following eight days of data collecting, on October 2, The Human Face of Data organizers will host three separate “Mission Control” events, in London, New York and Singapore, where an audience of journalists, data experts and participants will be able to analyze, visualize and interpret the data that has been collected. The events will act as a kind of “crash course” in big data too, with a series of talks from big data experts and plenty of project data on display, the idea being that journalists will then report on this and help to further spread our knowledge of big data.
Finally, the project is set to culminate on November 20, with the release of Smolan’s eagerly anticipated book, A Human Face of Big Data, which presents a fascinating collection of more than 200 photos, infographics and essays that will serve to visualize the ‘human’ side of big data in a way never seen before.
To learn more about the project, you can read Smolan’s exclusive interview with CNN here, or else visit the official project website which contains links to the Human Face of Big Data app for both Apple and Android smartphones.