Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

How does a Leonardo Da Vinci quote fits Big Data? The answer to this question lies within the art of visualizing and making people understand complex material.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on the idea of ‘Big Data at your fingertips‘, arguing that it’s one thing to get the (big)data, however it’s yet another to find a way for people to get their hands dirty working with the data.

In a perfect world a whole range of people would make use of a company’s data, not only the data scientists. Indeed, data science thrives on collaborative effort. Visualizing data, creating an interface for the data that employees are able to operate and providing the speed to do so is a prominent part of a big data strategy.

Key to making big data work for you is to simplify the process, at least for end users. This week Google provided a striking example of simplicity as the ultimate sophistication with the Super Storm Sandy datamap.

I include a screenshot of the interactive map in this post, but make sure you follow the URL to the map itself to see what I’m talking about. Upon standard Google Maps data, Google has added a precipitation radar overlay (with adjustable translucence), public alert zones and Red Cross safety shelter locations. A sidebar offers extra interactive and realtime elements such as traffic condition, neighborhood flooding zone estimates, satellite-resolution cloud imagery, high wind probability graphics, area webcams and related YouTube videos. All this rich coherent data is collected by tapping the data streams from the NOAA National Hurricane Center, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory,, the National Weather Service, and the United States Geological Survey.

The amount and variety of data streams Google is tapping into is amazing. Even more amazing to the argument in this post is that simply checking a box displays a data stream on the map. Simplicity in this case is the ultimate sophistication. Companies need to visualize their real time data streams and enable employees to gain insights from data streams by something so simple as checking a box.

When talking about a big data roadmap or a big data strategy visualizing data needs to be a top priority. The easier data can be accessed, the better use many people can make of it.

The quote by Da Vinci was part of a Eday talk on Big Data by Ben Jones of AKQA and got me thinking about my own argument on the importance of visualizing data streams. 

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