Without context, signals mean less

data-context-07c2e13Facebook has over 1 billion users. So what?

Your reaction to that last question was probably something like “What do you mean – so what?! What a stupid question! Getting to 1 billion users is amazing!”

It’s impressive because you already have the context.

That number, 1 billion, falls into focus when we consider 3 pieces of context that we all share:

  1. The total population of the world is around 7 billion, so Facebook’s user base represents about 14% of the world’s population – more than 1 in 10 people around the world.
  2. No other website has ever gotten that many users.
  3. Facebook still works under that weight of users and data.

What if the world had 100 billion users? 1 billion would be only 1%. That’s still sort of impressive.

What if 100 other websites had over 1 billion users? Then Facebook would be just one of many.

Finally, other websites have gotten big, but broken down under their own weight. See this ‘autopsy’ of Friendster.

It is when you take the real, actual situation into account, Facebook’s achievement can be seen for what it is – amazing.

Look again at the image in this post.

A graffiti painting of the word hero. Is that good or bad?

Again, it depends on context.

If that’s the first piece of graffiti to appear, it could be the sign of a neighborhood in decline. Look at the rust on the metal around it for more clues.

But what if it’s the only piece of graffiti in a neighborhood that’s been cleaned up, and it’s recognizing the community organizers who led the project for their hard work? And the rusty metal is a reminder of the industrial past of the neighborhood. Then it takes on a whole new meaning.

Signals can only be perceived in the frame of reference of their context.

Too often, data tools focus only on capturing the raw data. Process like ETL focus on extraction from the source database systems, not necessarily from the business application. Yet it’s the business application that provides the context for the information.

We believe that you should be able to learn from your data, plus the context for that data. That’s why FlockData data profiling gives you the flexibility to include all the business context (application, process, background, etc) you want and choose to include.

Photo credit:, Lack of Context, CC 2.0 by/sa