If you follow business or technology news, you've probably read about the massive amounts of data being collected, stored and analyzed by governments, social sites, corporations and academia. To put it in perspective, a 2012 TechCrunch article about Facebook's data says the social networking site "processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500+ terabytes of data each day." The term "Big Data" has become a popular buzzword for this flood of information. The article "The Age of Big Data" delves into the implications, one of which is that "decisions will increasingly be based on data and analysis rather than on experience and intuition," according to one MIT data expert. Another implication is there will be an ever-growing need for data scientists and analysts to help make sense of it all.
Nonprofits are also being impacted by this technological trend. In fact, Bill Gates has embraced measurement of data as part of his humanitarian work, saying in a recent Wall Street Journal article, "In the past year, I have been struck by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. You can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal..." Others in the corporate world are also taking notice of the potential of data to affect positive social outcomes. "Harnessing big data to address the world's problems," written by a McKinsey & Company consultant, argues that data can not only enhance the private sector, but can also be harnessed to more effectively fight disasters as well as diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And the tools are out there, as even the social site Pinterest has a page devoted to data visualization tools that nonprofits can use to share metrics with donors and supporters.