Big Data Visualized in Big Book Form

EMC, FedEx and Cisco Sponsor Book Project

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Marketers dealing with data on a regular basis have trouble making sense of it, so Rick Smolan's mission to help the rest of the world understand big data is no small task. Today, his new coffee table book, "The Human Face of Big Data," will be distributed to 10,000 influential people around the world in specially-designed FedEx boxes through primary sponsor, data-management firm EMC, along with Cisco and FedEx.

Hugo Campos cannot access the data his cardiac defibrillator transmits to its manufacturer.
Hugo Campos cannot access the data his cardiac defibrillator transmits to its manufacturer.

Mr. Smolan, who created the book with his wife Jennifer Erwitt, compiled more than 200 pages of photos, infographics and articles intended to illuminate the impact of data on our lives. From the armored vehicles used by storm chasers for data capture to a shot of the inventor of an energy sensing technology for measuring water and electric use, the book serves as a visualization of the project team's own exploration of how data is affecting just about everything.

Mr. Smolan decided to create the book, in part because he believes the big-data phenomenon could have as much of an impact on society as the internet. Indeed, the Internet interactions have contributed much of the data that is collected. Because we're all affected by big data, Mr. Smolan wants to "get people thinking about it in an informed way."

"We have this data exhaust, and everybody else is benefiting and profiting from it," said Mr. Smolan. "I'm not opposed to advertising, I'm not opposed to people using my data -- I just want a say in it," he said, suggesting that the majority of the conversation around data "is being done by companies and governments and not by individuals."

The book cost "many millions of dollars" to produce, said Mr. Smolan. Around 200 people collaborated on the book, which will be delivered to world leaders and well-known business execs including UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is also on the list of recipients. "The biggest challenge is it makes its way out the mailroom to Hilary Clinton herself," said Mr. Smolan.

The book creator is also responsible for titles such as "The Obama Time Capsule," "America at Home and U.K. at Home," and the "Day in the Life" series.

Though many in the ad industry think of consumer data and ad targeting when they think big data, the book doesn't feature a lot of examples of ad-related data. It does include an entry about Bluefin Labs, which tracks social-media discussions about TV ads.

An iPad app associated with the book offers stories, videos and interactive charts. All proceeds from sales of the app, which costs $2.99, will go to Charity: water, a non profit group that provides access to safe drinking water to people in developing countries.

Primary sponsor EMC had no control over editorial content, said Mr. Smolan. There is , however, a two-page infographic spread about EMC at the end of the book which mentions clients including The Baseball Hall of Fame Museum, the Library of Congress and eBay.

A TV show based on the book is in the works, too, said Mr. Smolan, who noted that the project team is shopping it around to various networks. The show will be sponsored by Cisco.

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