Big Data – The Strata Review from JISC

Big Data is here, and it changes everything. From startups to the Fortune 500, smart companies are betting on data-driven insight. Strata, a conference organised by O’Reilly was based on three full days of hands-on training, information-rich sessions, and a sponsor pavilion filled with the key players and products. Aimed at bringing together the people, tools, and technologies to make data work the good news is that JISC has written comprehensive report for those who missed it.

The impact that freely available information has had on the learning community is truly profound, with tools like Wikipedia attracting huge audiences (over 365 million readers and growing). We can now access more data than ever – but what do we do with it all? If we want to take full advantage of all this information do we really have the tools we need? And how do we develop these tools in the future?

The internet exerts an unprecedented equalizing force in bringing access to information to everyone on the planet. More information is available (and mainly for free) now than ever before, and yet it is becoming clear that access to information is not enough. The infrastructure to store and share data within sectors is a vital part of the ecosystem, and yet it is often treated as an afterthought. We need a radical change in the way we develop infrastructure in the higher education sector, to ensure that services consumed and funded by the public can do their job as efficiently as possible and at the best possible price.
The research agenda of a university department is closely matched to the skills and goals of the professors and lecturers working in that department. The topics researched in the History department will depend on the specific knowledge and expertise of the History professors at that university. If an external company were to offer to plan their research agenda for them, it would be met with obvious cynicism. And yet the critical tools that these departments rely on are often dismissed as a secondary priority – despite the fact that those very tools define the limits of our ability to explore and learn from the data space that is the foundation of all research…..

You can read the full review (its excellent) over at

Data Mash-Ups and the Future of Mapping: JISC Report

Over the past few months we have been working with colleagues here at CASA, University College London and at the University of Nottingham, in association with the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to write a report on Data mash-ups and the future of mapping. We are pleased to say the report has just been released and is available to download.

Report by Suchith Anand, Michael Batty, Andrew Crooks, Andrew Hudson-Smith, Mike Jackson, Richard Milton, Jeremy Morley

Data Mash-Ups and the Future of Mapping
Executive Summary
The term ‘mash-up’ refers to websites that weave data from different sources into new Web services. The key to a successful Web service is to gather and use large datasets and harness the scale of the Internet through what is known as network effects. This means that data sources are just as important as the software that ‘mashes’ them, and one of the most profound pieces of data that a user has at any one time is his or her location. In the past this was a somewhat fuzzy concept, perhaps as vague as a verbal reference to being in a particular shop or café or an actual street address. Recent events, however, have changed this. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton’s policy decision to open up military GPS satellite technology for ‘dual-use’ (military and civilian) resulted in a whole new generation of location-aware devices.Around the same time, cartography and GIScience were also undergoing dramatic, Internet-induced changes.
Traditional, resource intensive processes and established organizations, in both the public and private sectors, were being challenged by new, lightweight methods. The upshot has been that map making, geospatial analysis and related activities are undergoing a process of profound change. New players have entered established markets and disrupted routes to knowledge and, as we have already seen with Web 2.0, newly empowered amateurs are part of these processes. Volunteers are quite literally grabbing a GPS unit and hitting the streets of their local town to help create crowdsourced datasets that are uploaded to both open source and proprietary databases.
The upshot is an evolving landscape which Tim O’Reilly, proponent of Web 2.0 and always ready with a handy moniker, has labelled Where 2.0. Others prefer the GeoWeb, Spatial Data Infrastructure, Location Infrastructure, or perhaps just location based services. Whatever one might call it, there are a number of reasons why its development should be of interest to those in higher and further education. Firstly, since a person’s location is such a profound unit of information and of such value to, for example, the process of targeting advertising, there has been considerable investment in Web 2.0-style services that make use of it. Understanding these developments may provide useful insights for how other forms of data might be used. Secondly, education, particularly research, is beginning to realize the huge potential of the data mash-up concept. As Government, too, begins to get involved, it is likely that education will be expected to take advantage of, and indeed come to relish, the new opportunities for working with data.
This TechWatch report describes the context for the changes that are taking place and explains why the education community needs to understand the issues around how to open up data, how to create mash-ups that do not compromise accuracy and quality and how to deal with issues such as privacy and working with commercial and non-profit third parties. It also shows how data mash-ups in education and research are part of an emerging, richer information environment with greater integration of mobile applications, sensor platforms, e-science, mixed reality, and semantic, machine-computable data and speculates on how this is likely to develop in the future.
There are two versions for download: the first is an optimised version (900Kb) and the second is the one with full resolution graphics (14Mb)