Why is there so much data in the world? #17

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Petabytes, Exabytes & Zettabytes. This is how we’re measuring the amount of data there is in the world. And don’t bother Googling what this means, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, these are some inconceivable numbers.

 

But why is so much data being produced daily?

Let me help break this down. In this week’s blog, I’ll share three key reasons why we have an abundance of data in the world:

#1 World Wide Web Adoption

 

#2 Social Media Frenzy

 

#3 Internet of Things

 

Let’s dive into each of these:

#1 World Wide Web Adoption

The world wide web as we know it has existed since the early 1990s.

 

However, the adoption had been centred mainly in the western and wealthier countries.

 

This changed when the big population countries started adopting digitisation.

 

Asia has 55% of the world’s population with the two most populous countries, China and India.

 

The graph below shows the dramatic increase in the adoption of internet usage in both of these countries.

.....because changing people’s behaviours to adopt new tools and processes is an uphill struggle......💭

15,000% and 5,000% increase in users respectively. This adoption has changed the life of many people in these countries and has helped reduce poverty.

 

It’s even more shocking, that there’s still a long way for both of these countries to go.

 

The graph below shows the penetration rate against the overall population.

In comparison, in Europe and North America, penetration rates are around 90%.

 

It goes without saying, but the dramatic increase in users has led to an exponential increase in data capturing and production.

 

These users are contributing to the usage of the world’s biggest search engines. Google is now catering to over 40,000 searches per second. By the time you read the first section of this blog, 4.8 million searches were carried out.

 

Although search is only one of the activities the user would engage in; it’s worth understanding that a simple search scrapes a ton of data from the user.

 

Data points like location, search terms, frequency of searches, time, date, existing or new user, all help Google index the right search results for users.

 

The entire business model is based on capturing and acting on real-time data. Similarly, if you’ve logged in to your Google account, the history is maintained from your previous searches. As is the data for all the locations you’ve visited using Google Maps, or any searches you’ve made on YouTube.

 

This amount of data is for one user for one search engine. Multiply this by 4.5 billion+ users across the world using a variety of different online services. No wonder, the data runs into zettabytes.

#2 Social Media Frenzy

Let’s talk about social media platforms.

 

These are also some of the biggest contributors to the exponential increase in data production.

 

Over 50% of the active internet users, utilise one of the social media platforms shown below.

As a consultant, I know how hard it is to make an effective business change. This is mainly because changing people’s behaviours to adopt new tools and processes is an uphill struggle.

 

It’s incredible how humanity has adopted social media probably faster than anything in history. And of course, the great pandemic has only increased the users of these platforms.

 

Another change worth mentioning here is the introduction of smartphones. This has made having mobile platforms of social media easy to use and communicate with.

 

Now, getting to the data question.

 

Where do I start?

 

An easier question to answer would be, which data points these platforms do not capture?

 

The answer will be probably nothing.

 

Location-specific data, user’s name, date of birth, personal history like relationships, professional history like careers etc. are generally captured in these platforms. This also depends on how much the user has actually disclosed him/herself.

 

These platforms would generally also capture interest and the interaction that you have with other content on their platform. This is, so they can serve you better but also so that they can target you using advertisements better.

 

Just like #1: multiply hundreds of data points to billions of users. And there you have it. You have yourself two dozen multi-million square foot data centres across the world.

 

All in all, this creates a mountain of data, that is used for real-time actionable insights.

#3 Internet of Things

Although a fairly new subject in comparison to the above two items, IoT is well and truly here to stay.

IoT is simply all your devices connected up to the internet and now classed as smart.

 

Your printer connected to your WiFi, ordering ink and paper in advance as it starts to run low is a smart printer.

Your lightbulb changing to a variety of colours on your voice commands is a smart bulb.

 

Your fridge adding milk to your shopping list as you are about to run low is a smart fridge.

Your electricity usage is captured in real-time and sent to your energy provider is a smart meter.

 

These are use-cases we probably hadn’t have thought of a decade ago.

The table below from Gartner shows the overall IoT units (fridge, meter etc.) over the last 3 years.

Year

2018

2019

2020

IoT installed base units (billions)

3.96

4.81

5.81

There are more IoT devices than the overall users of the internet across the whole world. Unlike humans, these devices are creating additional data based on sensors every second.

 

And as faster transfer speeds are introduced with 5G, additional use-cases will be unlocked. Hence this trend will only increase exponentially!

 

Depending on the IoT device, a multitude of data points would be captured. Like location data, IoT device configuration data, the behaviour of users of the device etc.

 

This can help the company selling the device to learn more about how their products are being used and how to improve user experience. It can also allow the companies to spot trends of common faults in the devices.

 

Again, a mountain of data, the potential for huge actionable insights and of course a big contributor to the increase of data capturing around the world.

Conclusion

So, we’ve learnt about the acceleration of digitisation across the developing world, and the introduction of mobile and social media. That too, along with the rapid adoption of IoT devices and how it’s leading to a huge increase in capturing and processing of data.

 

This opens up endless opportunities for organisations making use of abundant data availability. This undoubtedly raises privacy concerns for the end-user.

 

I’ve covered some more of my thoughts on data privacy, in another article here.

 

If you’re still reading this, I hope you’ve found some value in this blog post.

 

If you’d like to be kept informed of more content like this, subscribe to my newsletter.

 

Feel free to reach out to my email [email protected], if you have some feedback or just want to say hello!

 

Also, check out my other blog on Value of Your Data

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Hanzala Qureshi

Hanzala Qureshi

I’m a digital consultant at a leading consultancy firm. I mostly spend my life working on complex data projects. On this website I document my journey in consulting and thoughts on data & emerging technologies.

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