Move over ‘Big Data’, 2017 is the year where things get personal.

Big data might still be making headlines, but it’s nothing without the smaller stuff. Meet little data — or the tidbits of personal info extracted from our daily use of common technology. Think where we travel, what we purchase, how long we take to get ready in the morning… It might sound obvious, but, thanks to advances in mobile technology, little data makes it possible to better understand ourselves, and design our lives better to suit.

So what is little data?

Where big data’ refers to the collection of data from billions of sources to design cities, infrastructure, and future technology, little data is the measurement, tracking, and analysis of the minutiae of our daily lives – much of it done via mobile.  And it’s personal – less about big, swathing volumes of information, and more about what makes you, well, you.

Take fitness wearables for example, which log how many calories we consume, how many we burn working out, how many steps we’ve taken, and how these compare to our previous day’s steps. It’s small-scale, personal information that can help us make decisions about our daily routine (and better ourselves in the process).

When our individual steps are compared against a wider average for our height and weight, little data starts to grow up. However, unlike its larger sibling, little data doesn’t analyse and advise, it just shows us what’s what so we may draw our own conclusions, and potentially change our habits.

Growing pains

The dominant opinion in the field suggests the main differences between big data and little data can be broken down into three categories: focus, visibility and control.

Focus: Big data assists an organisation’s goals. Little data helps individuals hit personal goals.

Visibility: Individuals can’t see big data, but little data helps them see better.

Control: Big data is controlled by organisations. Little data is controlled by individuals. Perhaps we could add ‘permissions’ to this roll call: Organisations let people access big data, but individuals give organisations access to little data.

From little things, big things grow

At Dysart Unified School District outside Phoenix, Arizona, students work on computerised lessons at their own pace. The type of class, the student’s answers, and their working speed are monitored, and the data is used by teachers to develop activities that speak to each student’s individual needs. This is little data, literally, at work. Small amounts of meaningful information is collected on each student, and a unique response is given.

Little data will help students learn more effectively in the classroom. Image: Supplied

Little data will help students learn more effectively in the classroom. Image: Supplied

Education is not the only industry where little data can have a big impact. Think about energy usage, banking, healthcare, transport – all these services are accessed by the masses, but speak to a specific individual’s needs. Envisage a text book that adjusts itself to suit your individual learning style, or a toothbrush that alerts you to a precise cavity.

What this means

What’s generally better than having more data? Having the right data (and the insights to make sense of it). Little data allows for personalisation, which, in the age of mass computerisation and automated response, is becoming highly valuable.

Millennials, who are more likely to be brand-loyal than any other demographic, expect more personalisation from services. In a recent survey by American Express , 52% of the group said they expected brands to customise services and offers to suit their needs. This extends from loyalty services (points, rewards), to products (paying only for what you use), and added extras like 24-hour delivery, environmental impact programs or selected philanthropic endeavours. Though big data allows companies to make their processes more efficient, little data lets businesses truly understand the needs of their customers, and service this accordingly.

On a more personal level, little data can be a great motivator and help make us more efficient. Research by the Jama Network shows that people who use tracking technologies are more likely to be successful in losing weight and getting in shape.

Precise targeting works best when it’s packaged with personal value. Companies are increasingly hiring big data specialists, but they should consider building services based on little data to make customers feel special. Whether its dynamic web and marketing content, personalised loyalty programs, highly targeted advertising (through digital and social media), or rewards that speak directly to customer needs, sometimes it’s important to sweat the small stuff.

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Camilla Gulli


Camilla Gulli,

As Editor at Red Wire, Camilla is particularly passionate about diversity in tech, content marketing, social media, and disruptive platforms.