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SourceHamiNewsNetwork    Updated2020-01-21 02:55:58

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  If you've been in the tech-know for China this year, then you're probably sick of hearing the buzz term "big data" by now.

  Among Chinese analysts, scientists and scholars, big data or "da shuju" is the subject of nearly 40 books compiled or authored by Chinese scholars this year alone, according to China's leading B2C e-commerce bookstore dangdang.com.

  Then, there are the countless news articles and journals looking at how Chinese people can catch new waves on the productivity growth underpinned by the use of it.

  In his best seller The Big Data Revolution, Xu Zipei, an information management expert, predicts big data to change the way we do business, and how the government manages the country - and to ultimately influence our daily lives.

  Say what?

  While there are numerous definitions for big data, US-based market research firm Gartner's, which is widely accepted, states it as "high-volume, high-velocity and high variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making."

  Especially after entering the Web 2.0, the Internet has surged in popularity globally as accessibility continues to reach even some of the world's most remote corners. This shift has created an unruly explosion in data, particularly unstructured data, such as script, video and images, most of which is posted online by Net users at any time they wish.

  US firm InterDigital Communications (IDC) estimated that the amount of data created and replicated globally in 2009 was 800 exabytes - able to fill enough DVDs to reach the moon. And that figure is expected to grow by 44 times come 2020.

  According to China Internet Network Information Center, the country had 591 million Internet users in June, while China's Internet penetration rate rose 2 percent to 44.1 percent at the end of 2012.

  Each day, Chinese Net users spend hours at a time on the Net, leaving behind vast trails of information, revealing who they are, the people they contact, the contents of their communication, the goods they buy, and those or the knowledge they seek.

  This information can all be collected and analyzed, making it possible to foresee what is happening in the "real world." It's why individuals, businesses and governments are increasingly making choices based on scientific analysis instead of gut feelings or intuition.

  Marketable value

  Though this IT concept has only started to gain public attention in China, domestic companies with vast databases and/or fairly strong data analysis abilities have already made their forays into the new Internet era.

  An IDC report expected China's big data technologies and services market to be worth some 7 million by 2016, nearly seven times what it was worth in 2011.

  In its early stages, the market is mainly pushed forward by big Internet companies like Alibaba and Baidu, said Zhang Xi, an industry analyst with Analysys International.

  Alibaba, the domestic e-commerce giant which operates two widely popular online shopping marketplaces in China - Taobao and Tmall - appears to be the most active on the big data front.

  Based on vast consumer databases and product information assets, Alibaba launched platform lz.taobao.com in 2009, enabling its online vendors to see how many potential customers visit their stores per day, which province they come from and what items they seek. Since then, it has set up various other tools for retailers to learn more about consumer spending habits and trends by providing information as useful as the most-searched product online.

  Apart from consumer insight, companies with an IT focus like Baidu and Sohu.com Inc are also sensing the importance of big data when it comes to digital marketing.

  The country's search engine leader, Baidu, has already been able to show consumers ads for products it presumes they are likely to buy, guesses that have been made according to their keywords searched. The company is also looking to further harness big data in other operations, including for e-mapping as well as to offer online music and videos.

  Sohu.com Inc is also touting its big data services, saying Monday that it plans to set up a targeted ad marketing ecosystem via big data deployment next year, to make their clients' ad displays more efficient and less random.

  But while the trend is encouraging, Zhang said that companies need to prepare for the risks of such a system crashing, adding that the current open source analysis model and tools are premature and too challenging for firms to take advantage of.

  'Open minds needed'

  Yet despite technology's general high threshold, adopting a big data mode will not be that easy, given that barriers to data access and information-sharing will block its channels from developing too quickly.

  But, the outcome of a more big data-inclined world would have its upsides, as more data would mean that a more accurate analysis could be given, while allowing for a greater number of decisions to be made more confidently, with improved efficiency and at lower costs, said Zhang.

  Currently, the two main methods of obtaining data - collecting it personally or purchasing it from companies - serve mainly enterprising purposes. But, strides in big data could change that in the future, said Liang Guangtao, vice president of Shanghai-based big data technology and services company Action Technology.

  "For example, if our company could gain information related to Shanghai's public transportation, such as the number of daily buses in operation and local commuters' timely updated personal location data, then our company could probably gauge whether a bus was stuck in a traffic jam and advise residents to go to their bus stop now or later," he told the Global Times.

  But, as many ordinary people remain reluctant to even share their personal locations, never mind other information, a more open mind-set will be required if big data is ever to truly offer greater individual benefits or contribute to the construction of a smart city, said Liang.

  Governments, too, should follow up with rules and regulations to govern the degree of openness as quickly as possible to ensure that big data in China has a healthy environment to develop in, added Zhang.

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