So, what exactly is “Big Data” and what should media companies know, especially in this fast-changing digital age?

I attended the INMA World Congress recently in San Francisco, California. One of the topics covered was Big Data because it is indeed a hot topic among media folks, one that potentially gives us a clue as to how to seriously monetise our futures.

Indeed, in a pre-congress survey, INMA members highlighted “data analytics” as one of the three most important issues at their media companies.

Meanwhile, at World Congress, speaker Lutz Finger, author of the book, “Ask, Measure, Learn,” and co-founder of Fisheye Analytics, conducted an experiment with the audience.

By simply logging onto LinkedIn, he gained a fair knowledge about the attendees from their very public profiles, demonstrating there is information out there in the public domain that can be used easily to profile people.

Imagine then what we can achieve if we proactively start to use data that could be available if we want to see it and use it! You see, each time we make an online purchase, we are adding to the data stream.

Big Data is exactly what it sounds like — simply “lots of data.” And since the dawn of the Internet, we’ve been producing data in huge amounts.

It’s all out there.

It’s been estimated that since time began and up to the year 2003, only 5 exabytes of data was generated — that’s equal to 5 billion gigabytes, if you can get your head around such numbers.

Then, between 2003 and 2012, that data amount reached approximately 2.7 zettabytes (or 2,700 exabytes, or 2.7 trillion gigabytes), according to Intel.

Finally, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, we are now producing roughly 5 quintillion bytes  (or around 4.3 exabytes) of data every two days.

Suffice to say, it all has become massive in a short space of time. Mind-boggling! And since the age of the smartphone and tablet, we are seeing this sort of information becoming more accessible, immediate, and more useful.

The term Big Data usually refers to a massive, quickly expanding, varied, and very often unstructured set of digitised data. That can include all the digital information circling around out there on the ’net. Plus any first party/proprietary information of companies and readers we’ve either done business with or transacted with. Plus official market and government statistics and records.

Imagine if we were to somehow collate and analyse that information into something meaningful?

We’ve generated lots of it ourselves by making online purchases (and increasingly via mobile devices) and participating in social media, but this is the tip of the iceberg.

Big Data can include photographs, video and audio files, tweets and other social networking posts (even this blog posting!), e-mails, text messages, phone records, queries on search engines, QR/AR scans, etc. We (and our audiences) are producing data constantly and leaving a digital trail that can be mined for useful information and monetisation. And it’s all becoming more “mobile" by the day.

The numbers and types of devices that produce data have been contributing to this scenario, too.

Besides home computers and retailers’ electronic point-of-sale systems (EPOS), we have the soon-to-be ubiquitous smartphones; things such as Wi-Fi-enabled scales that tweet our weight gains and losses; fitness sensors that track and share health data; cameras that post photos or videos online in an instant; and global positioning satellite (GPS) devices that can locate our exact location.

The list goes on ... and all these channels, as above, are becoming more and more “mobile” constantly.

And what is soon coming? Sensors in cars, driverless cars, wearable smart devices such as watches ... all connected and all collecting data.

This large number of ways to generate and upload data has given us the term “the Internet of things,” and the Internet of things increasingly means “mobile.”

We must grasp all this, whether it’s to upsell extra (relevant) products to readers based on past preferences; offer targeted advertising to our valued advertisers; send appropriate marketing messages to readers that are timely, location-based, and contextual; or to build loyalty with our audiences, as they feel the true meaning of being really connected with us. And that will largely mean in a mobile way!

As I say, mobile is (and will be more huge) in the future. We need to use all the information around us to take the next step to safeguarding our future. Getting closer, understanding our audiences, and letting them decide what they want from us (creating a dialogue) is the way forward.

And, down the road, that will all be done via mobile. It’s getting there already. It’s all a matter of time for a dominant mobile environment.

Time to wake up!