Warm welcome to our blog

We are a group of four ComDev students exploring the exciting topics of open data and big data and their relation to each other. What is their place in the social media, data and development/social change debate?

We are indebted to Joel Gurin of New York University, who writing for The Guardian earlier this year, explained that ‘big data and the new phenomenon open data are closely related but they are not the same. Open data brings a perspective that can make big data more useful, more democratic, and less threatening. While big data is defined by size, open data is defined by its use[i].’

In terms of definition, then, we shall agree that big data ‘provides very detailed views of large [data] systems in flux[ii]’ whereas open data is that which is ‘freely available to everyone to use, analyse, display, and distribute for any purpose[iii].’ It then follows that some big data sets may not be open (think of non-public data used by companies for Marketing purposes, such as Facebook selling its users’ web-browsing data to advertisers), and that some open data sets may not be exactly ‘big’ (think of some specific public data from local government, for example the live traffic information from the Highways Agency, made available online by the UK government[iv]).

We are grateful to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, authors of the seminal book Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think[v], for sharing their understanding of big data, and predicting its impact on society. According to them, the huge amount of data we create daily by surfing on the Internet, shopping online, moving around by car or public transport can lead to new insights about human behavior and correlation.

So what makes data big, you may ask, and how do big data and open data have an impact on development and social change, in particular when they are used within the context of social media such as blogs, tweets, or mobile Internet? Well, that is exactly what we will try to figure out in the coming weeks. As we post material to our blog, you are welcome to discuss your views with us.

Potential queries, suggestions and comments will be received with thanks as they can help improve our blog or the material we post in it. You can contact us by writing to us through the Contact Us section, by emailing us at comdev6@gmail.com or by tweeting us at @comdevbigdata.

Stay tuned!



[i] Gurin, J., 2014. Big data and open data: what’s what and why does it matter? The Guardian, [online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2014/apr/15/big-data-open-data-transform-government [Accessed 4 October 2014].

[ii] Castree, N., et al, 2013. A Dictionary of Human Geography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[iii] Castree, N., et al, 2013. A Dictionary of Human Geography, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[iv] Live traffic information from the Highways Agency, 2014. Data.gov.uk [online] Available at: http://data.gov.uk/dataset/live-traffic-information-from-the-highways-agency-road-network [Accessed 4 October 2014].

[v] Mayer-Schönberger, V., and Cukier, K., 2013. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Boston and New York: Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.