The Big Story of Small Data

Alan Dix
Professor in the School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham Senior Researcher at Talis, Birmingham
July 10, 2015 - 14:00 to 15:00
Access Grid Room

Oxford e-Research Centre, 7 Keble Road, Oxford

  • Seminar
  • No booking required
  • Open to all

Big data is big money and big news, in academia no less than elsewhere with numerous new research groups, conferences, journals and, not least, funding initiatives. However, in this talk I will weave together a number of stories about smaller data: from learning analytics, from musicology, from small communities, and from my own 1000 mile walk round Wales. Previously I’ve talked about the value of looking at the ‘long tail of small data’, not just vast monolithic data sets such as Twitter streams, DBpedia, or MOOC analytics, but instead those that arise, bottom up, from individuals, small groups, and even islands. These small data sets together can make ‘big data’, but typically non-homogeneous and more complex than monolithic big data, thus posing algorithmic and interaction challenges. However, perhaps more important are the social and political challenges: the way we value or fail to value data as academics, and how the control of the production and use of data is fundamental to power, democracy and identity.

Alan Dix is a Professor in the School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, and Senior Researcher at Talis, Birmingham, and when not in Birmingham or travelling elsewhere, lives on Tiree, a small Hebridean island. He is the son of a carpenter, wears sandals and has long hair and a beard, but thereafter all pretensions to saintliness end. Alan's research interests are varied and eclectic, although mathematics was (and is!) his first love the majority of his work is focused around the area of human–computer interaction – what happens when people use technology and how to design technology for people. He is the author of one of the key international textbooks in the area as well as other books and over 350 academic papers, and last year ran an open online HCI course now available on the open-resource site Much of his career has been in academia, but in addition he has spent time in agricultural engineering research, local government IT, submarine design and start-ups. With a colleague at Lancaster University he invented technology to make LEDs individually controllable; this is being developed commercially and is expected to transform cityscapes across the world. Last year Alan walked the entire perimeter of Wales, a 1000 mile, 3 1/2 month journey focused on issues of community and technology. This produced a variety of data qualitative and quantitative, including what is believed to be the largest publicly available long-term ECG trace. This data is all available in the public domain for third party processing and analysis.