The Power & Possibilities of Big Data. Silicon Valley comes to UK discussion blogged.

“We now have access to very large data sets from consumers and companies, and access to technology that makes it easier than ever to capture and store this data. This event will explore what you can do with this data, and the technical and social challenges involved. We will discuss examples of companies who are collecting, processing and interpreting data for business and social benefits.”

Part of the Silicon Valley comes to the UK programme, this panel and discussion is to explore the opportunities for entrepreneurs that the rise of Big Data offers.

Big Data Panel, NESTA, November 2010

Big Data Panel, NESTA, November 2010

These are my notes from the event, not particularly a commentary upon it.

The panel:

How do we ensure we tackle the opportunities without getting lost in the numbers?

Hans Peter Brondmo: Data and Nokia. HPB wrote book with Geoffrey Moore in 2000, The Engaged Customer: the New Rules of Internet Direct Marketing, considering how corporates should be communicating with data. The past decade has shown how hard some of the possibilities have proved to make happen. Mobile phones are producing huge amounts of actionable data but not all of it can be used.

Privacy is a different thing now to what it once was. If you are carrying a phone in your pocket, you are being seen. While some of this is outside of your control, you now have more control over your ‘electronic soul’ that exists in the cloud than you ever did. Governments are trying to control it, corporations are trying to engage with it, you don’t have full control over it and the ownership of your electronic soul is not defined.

The electronic soul is an asset and you as a consumer should get to own your own information. You should be able to have a say in who uses your soul and for what but there is no framework to govern this. The Ts&Cs of every social network and piece of your electronic soul are different, some give you rights, others don’t.

Haakon Overli: The investor perspective.

  • It’s all about making money – buy low, sell high. Get paid early, pay late.
  • Investors are concerned that the pioneers of big data, will leave the field soured for future generations of entrepreneurs – if Facebook or Google lose the trust of their customers, their customers lose trust with the big data industry.
  • When anyone talks about big data, you have to consider privacy at some point.
  • Big data is only investable if it can take big data sets and extract information from them – cites Cognitive Match as his favourite (and in his portfolio) example.

Max Jolly, dunhumby: dunhumbyt owned by tesco and behind Tesco’s Loyalty Card. Max is a data miner – much cleaner than a coal miner. Attribution allows you to understand a customer, context allows you to make decisions on the information.

“You are what you eat. We look at your shopping and infer all sorts of things about you from age, sex, weight, social status, what you are likely to buy next etc. We even know things when you repeatedly put £10 of petrol in your tank rather than random larger amounts”.

The smartest businesses are making their data available across their organisations, but this will also create huge privacy issues if not done in the right way.

Megan Smith, Uberuser, ubercreator, ubercataloguer of data. leverages Google employees to do good things with data. Three examples of’s use of big data to do good.

  • is trying to use Landsat images over time to start tracking the deforrstation footprint anywhere across the world for past 30 years – Google Earth Engine.
  • Flu trends – tracking 36 search terms for flu related symptoms across globe. Found it to be over 95% effective in anticipating flu outbreaks across the world.
  • Google Crisis Response – integrating the response to crisis with easy use of big data.
  • Google Books – Not a initiative but shows what can be done by putting lots of information from disparate sources online.


Who has the most to gain and who has the most to lose with big dasta?

Who owns my data?

MS – Privacy is a problem when you have an unfriendly state that might abuse the data. Gainers far outweigh the losers. Big winners will be consumers through better access to healthcare and lifestyle information. When you can see what dta can do for you, you will embrace it.

[Mmmm – This was a fairly evangelical answer to question- who has most to lose?]

HO: Legislators are simply not going to be up to setting and creating a framework for privacy. It is up to the ecosystem and the players within it to set the agenda. This could be hugely dangerous.

HPB: Privacy frameworks have to come initially from the private sector – from enlightened companies paving the way. Facebook is leading the field in creating an online identity that allows you to log into other sites with their/your identity and to share your data with others. Is this the right company to have such power? It will be down to the companies involved to be seen to be doing the right thing. Self-policing, or lack of it, is one of biggest potential pitfalls of rapidly evolving privacy legislation.

MJ: With great power comes great responsibility. The people with the most to lose are the people who have the most to gain – Tesco, Google and others have been extremely conscious about how you raise the awareness of responsible use of data. It is the responsibility of the big data owners to help educate the public in how their data is used.

Tesco can calculate calorie intake per family, calculate food miles, CO2 consumption. By sharing some of this data with consumers they may be able to help educate consumers about choices. Some people will react very badly to being told what to do.

Big Data, Little Borders: How has big data been affected by territorial boundaries?

MS: For, borders have very little to do with issues. is typically using satellite images that are not subject to individual country laws and reporting. For activities on the ground, disaster relief for example, Megan thinks they are only likely to go where they are accepted by government in a particular situation.

Why need more excitement about data. People that make that happen are great!

Hans Rosling talks about the theatre of data.

The Grauniad are doing a great job of sharing data with the world.

What are you looking for entrepreneurs and how can they get in touch?

Hans Peter Brondmo, Head of Social Software and Services at Nokia.

  • Nokia Growth Partners and Venture Partners helps to fund venture propositions.
  • Otherwise, you have to find the right people in the right product group and make friends with them.

Max Jolly, Director of Media Solutions at dunnhumby, (behind Tesco’s Clubcard programme)

  • Don’t have a great track record of engaging with startups. Have a big problem with sharing data. Want to change that and can make difference with expertise in other areas

Haakon Overli, Managing Partner of Dawn Capital, (one of the UK’s most active investor in data-base businesses).

  • Happy to talk to people opportunistically.

Megan Smith, VP Business Development and CEO,

  • Have lots of things we can do to help companies grow on business development side.
  • Have over 50 APIs into Google available to third parties.
  • Google ventures loves talking to startups, particularly ones with revenue that they can leverage into Google.
  • Get in touch: megans * googlemail . com msadmin*  googlemail . com

Interesting topic but would have been interesting to discuss fewer subjects in more detail.

7 responses to “The Power & Possibilities of Big Data. Silicon Valley comes to UK discussion blogged.”

  1. Ben Gladstone says:

    The thing about bloggers is they are given a brief on what is being said before things happen. It is much easier to comment on that basis. Good summary though. Is the rest of silicon valley comes to the UK online?

  2. Reid Hoffman says:

    Reid Hoffman at NESTA.

    On Privacy – Privacy is being redefined. People are starting to realise that making certain info public brings great benefits.

    What makes a great entrepreneur? “Drive, high learning curve, ability to harness yr network. The idea comes last” #svc2uk

    On UK enterprise: “UK has deep tech skills, but needs better ways to connect into the market to make amazing companies happen.”

  3. Thanks Ben,

    Actually I am sure the recognised ones might but I was just taking notes. glsd they were useful.

  4. Charlie says:

    It was a discussion that left me hungry for more information and more robust questioning.

    We came to hear someone from Google talk at a high level about there being more winners than losers in the big data debate and therefore it is OK. To hear that the losers in big data will be in countries with bad governments. To be told that the industry needs to self police and is doing so effectively.

    FFS – what an opportunity missed. The amount of information shared by the panel was tiny. The platitude to content ratio was at the limit.

  5. Thanks for the write-up, Mark – it’s a really thorough summary. We’re collecting together links and further reading on the NESTA site, and will have a summary of our own up soon.

    Charlie – sorry if you were frustrated – it was a really broad topic to try and cover in the time available.

    Hope you enjoyed the discussion – there are more Hot Topics are planned for the New Year.

  6. Thanks Louise. In my experience people called Charlie are rarely satisfied. 🙂

    It is always hard to set the right level for a conversation. My guess is that most people who turn up to a ‘Big Data’ discussion will know the basics (it is hardly Peter Andre sings Bluewater).

    I think I agree that some more robust questioning, or soliciting questions and themes from the audience first, would add to, or even provide direction for the discussion. This is such a hugely interesting area, with rapidly evolving and highly contentious issues, commercial and legal, that it is too easy to say too little about too much.

  7. Nic Windley says:

    Just found this network. Looks very interesting and I hope I can contribute something.

    As with open source, the spread or gain of “opening up” to a broader community should compound itself by providing new opportunities that the broader community shares in, but the line you draw between data that is truly “public domain-able” and “private” is an interesting one.

    Even google has had it trouble when its mapping imaging service got caught up in a so called private data extraction scandal. Trust indeed could be under threat on an enormous scale, especially damaging if credible alternatives exist.

    Not only may we see more rapid growth companies appearing on the scene, but we could also see rapid decline if and when trust becomes abused.

    On the engagement issue yhy not use technology such as real time twitter questions which could be cued into the mix ?