For you to understand what I’m really talking about, let’s just take a quick trip down my memory lane. So back in, let’s see, probably 2003, there’s this unbelievably sexy kid, ME, sitting in this small computer lab in the basement of my school then listening to an unbelievably and excruciatingly boring lecture on ‘Data and Information’. Yes, it’s as boring if not more than it sounds. Since I was thinking about how to beat ‘Dahaka’ in Prince of Persia Warrior Within, I hear the instructor say something like ‘Data is raw facts and Information is what happens to it once it has been processed’. What an utterly useless fact - a waste of words if I may say so, which is why I completely disregarded it at that time and went back to thinking about Prince of Persia.
I wish I could be dramatic and say years and years passed by and that thought never again entered my mind but I can’t. I soon read it in Stephen Doyle’s book ‘Information Systems For You’. Doyle explained Data and Information by saying that if 5 is Data, $5 would be Information. What a useless analogy! 7 years later, I think I have finally across a problem has really taught me what the difference between Data and Information is (an epic discovery of epic proportions similar to that scene in Godfather Part 3, where ol’ Don tells Vincent, ‘Finance is having the gun and Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger’).
Let me start by telling you the problem. So I have 223 friends on Facebook and say all of them use Facebook daily. Now all of them happen to be really good friends of mine who take offence if they don’t get stalked frequently (I am found in fairly strange circles). So they absolutely insist that I know everything about their life, their statuses, all photos and all their close friends’ names and stuff like that. I’m guessing you can see that I’m in a bit of a pickle here. How exactly am I supposed to do that for 223 people in the 2 hours that I log onto Facebook, while watching House simultaneously?
Enter genius - ME (Hah! Caught you by surprise this time didn’t I?). The idea is this - rather than me going through all that data my friends expect me to comprehend, I will make a Facebook application that can revamp my Facebook Homepage and just give me an interesting summary of all recent activity on my Facebook in the following order: all the sad and morbid stuff like deaths, illnesses, accidents (and oh, of course, the breakups) come first. Then the happy stuff like graduations, birthdays, marriages (depending of course on how much I like the person) and then all the important relationship changes. Then the boring daily wise-ass remarks, the ooh’s, aah’s and aww weirdo statuses. Also, it shows me a cumulative photo gallery that gives me a sense of what my friends have been up to. That means roughly 40 pictures at max - this involves some REALLY cool math which considers the 6 degrees of separation rule.
But I’m not going to want to take the fun out of stalking here: I may even want to add an auto-stalk option that’ll give you the stalking results that you might want to look at first before you start stalking yourself. But the question is: how do I tie this up with Data and Information? Well, Data is what I was dealing with when I used to go through boring photos of my friend’s neck or their dog sitting, information is what my application gives me. Information is telling me stuff I need to know and Data is driving me crazy with telling me everything besides the important stuff too. For the super-smart ones (I.Q 130 and above - it’s not polite to say nerds!) information is a graph and data tells you all about the points.
Now let’s delve a bit into how we can make this all happen to give you a better idea of implementation. What I am making here does something called ‘Topic Analysis’. To explain that, say I have this friend, let’s call him Kamil, who’s constantly asking most of my friends for blog posts. Now rather than me seeing Kamil making a similar wall post on 15 of my friends’ walls, I’ll just read the content of all the posts this Kamil guy makes and remove the is’, the ands’ and the but’s and get exactly the content of his post. And then just summarize this like: somebody’s being a real pest and asking everyone to write their blog posts on time with a small photo of Kamil on the side. And a link to all Kamil’s recent posts if I want to go through them.
Topic Analysis further involves something known as Sentiment Analysis, so if this Kamil guy says Aaarrrghhh or uses words that have a negative meaning like horrible and awful, the ‘Kamil is being a pest’ thing can include
‘…and he doesn’t seem to be very happy about it’. Another example would be that if you had fifteen ill friends, and all of them post statuses on Facebook about it (and its highly probable that they will - ill people don’t get around that much and are notoriously good whiners), you can get a summarized feed of who’s ill and who you’d have to pamper immediately and who can wait. Its kind of really cool.
But I haven’t even started to talk about the fun bit yet. So , let’s take another problem because I absolutely love stalking in my precious little two hours of free time. My application will keep a track of which people I visit most along with things like the frequency of my visits to their profile photos (typical stalking). It will make a record of the gender and some details like, say, race, skin color, communities, and maybe even location (all DATA that can be obtained with absurd ease with a bit of knowhow of the Facebook API and Image Analysis). Then every day, it’ll automatically go through my six degrees of freedom looking for as much as can be found as a match to what I usually look for and bring up results of interesting people I might want to befriend and/or stalk. How cool is that?
Even this awesome auto-stalking isn’t the best bit. The best bit is how it doesn’t affect my regular Facebook, so on days when I feel like I have time and can go through all that DATA, I have the option to go to my regular home page and do what I do best. If its not such a day, I get to go into Supermom phase and accomplish everything as an awesome socialite and be the one who manages to save the day by not breaking everyone’s heart. It’s a win-win situation.
Topic Analysis, Sentiment Analysis and Image Analysis - the ability to extract what’s important from all that data is what makes Information relevant. In fact, one of the defining features of the Information Age is getting all that information rather than using redundant old techniques. It’s the new thing, and all the cool people will be using my application as soon as it goes up. Who would want to read through paragraphs and paragraphs of useless talk if they could get something like this?
“Utterly pointless babbling with frequent mention of Kamil and Facebook“.
There you go – a few words that made you decide whether to Read or Not to Read. If you had read that earlier, rather than going through all that you just did, you would have had a pleasanter few minutes. Too bad for me, my work doesn’t give me the elaborate praise I deserve. Here’s some ACDC to ease the pain: