Two recommended talks from DataGotham

Michael Flowers on how New York City uses its data and Sinan Aral on the nature of online influence.

A few weeks ago, I attended DataGotham, the first conference celebrating the New York data community. It was a great short conference: good people, great speakers, great party at the Tribeca Rooftop. (Guess what? The CIA is hiring. Or so we’re told.)

My two favorite speakers were Michael Flowers and Sinan Aral. It was great to hear a New Yorker who really sounded like a New Yorker, and who clearly knew the streets. Mike directs New York’s Policy and Strategic Planning Analytics team, and talked about using data to optimize New York’s operations. A theme that I’ve seen repeatedly is that many organizations have lots of data that they don’t know how to use. In many cases, they don’t even know that the data is valuable. Mike talked about how New York City is putting that data to use. For example, his team is using tax records to optimizing building inspections. Buildings on which taxes are owed are much more likely to have a fire, and it’s much, much more likely that a firefighter will be injured in one of those fires. So once you know where the tax problems are, you’ve found the most dangerous buildings, and can prioritize your inspections.

Sinan’s talk was the proverbial “drinking from a firehose”: fast and furious, with more insight packed into 20 minutes than most people can get into a full day. His research is on the nature of online influence, and started with the idea that Ashton Kutcher has millions of Twitter followers, but if he told his followers to do something, very few of them would actually do it. Twitter followers and Facebook friends are self-selecting, and are likely to self-organize around similar behaviors. If somebody tells you to do something that you were already likely to do, is that influence? With careful analysis on Facebook’s huge dataset, Sinan has been able to tease out the real influence relationships.

If you missed out in September, you can attend the DataGotham Reprise that’s part of NYC Data Week. All of the events in Data Week are free and open to the public. If you can’t make the Data Gotham Reprise, you can watch all the talks on their YouTube channel. And if you like that, Mike Flowers will be keynoting at O’Reilly’s Strata Conference + Hadoop World in New York, October 23-25.

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