Wrapping up the INMA Big Data Media conference at Google London, Shane Murray of The New York Times, Simon Rogers of Google, and Jim Roberts of Mashable discussed business models, privacy, making money from data, the best data tools, and future trends. 

The panel was asked to what extent they allow data to inform their editorial decisions. Roberts said data influences editorial decisions at Mashable, but it did not dictate them: “There are stories that we pay attention to that we think are important to our identity.” 

He gave the example of Mashable’s recent decision to cover the Scottish referendum. “I found it interesting, but it didn't move our audience needle very much. But I liked it because it made me feel we were expanding our field of vision. On the other hand, their are stores that we will go for because we know they will enter the viral jetstream.”

The panel was also asked about what “keeps them awake at night.” What new projects are they planning? 

Rogers said, apart from his children, he is kept awake by the desire to tell compelling stories that are interesting to other people. 

Murray said for him it is the drive to make sure that data is used in the right way: “I am trying to use the best of design and the best of the newsroom to feed into the way we use analytics,” he said. “So not to simply use data to make decisions.

Roberts worries that some of the “tricks” and tools that have helped make Mashable so successful are easily learnt and replicated by competitors. He is kept awake, he said, by the knowledge that the Web site will need to innovate to stay ahead of the competition.

He also said the tools that Mashable use, such as Dataminr and Geofeedia are widely available: “When those tricks are adopted more broadly, we will lose our competitive edge,” Roberts said.

Martha Stone asked the panel what data tools they could recommend to the audience. Murray said The New York Times analysts use Python.org, and Tableau.com, describing it as “a good predictive visualisation tool.”

Roberts mentioned Geofeedia and Dataminr, but also Mashable’s own Velocity software.

Rogers said he rated Raw, by Density Design, “a way to make vectored charts, and its free,” and Excel. 

When the panel was asked for advice on how a small organisation should start using data, they agreed that even small organisations can use Big Data effectively.

“Focus on a few things you can do well and try to be as good as you can,” Rogers said. “Then focus on partnerships, lots of organisations are up for helping. It is not about size, with one person you can do amazing things.”