Sara Reiner | Contributor
January 28, 2013

Big Data and APIs Combine to Boost Business


The term “big data” continues to make headlines across the tech and business worlds, but what is it exactly and how can it help companies reach their full potential?

Big data refers to a collection of information so large and complex that only computers can fully analyze its patterns. Relationships among billions of tweets, for example, or street names on Google Maps are too complicated to understand without sophisticated software.

Enormous data sets like these require equally gigantic databases, making cloud storage the preferred medium for big data processing. It’s possible to keep large data sets on physical servers, but this is far costlier, more labor intensive and less scalable than a cloud solution.

Big data is becoming indispensible for companies that want to completely understand their customer base. Beyond social media buzz, large data collections can reveal consumers’ buying habits and interactions with competing products too, making it essential for marketing divisions to mine big data.

“Data collection has almost been the easy part; the new challenge will be connecting the dots between different types of data across multiple channels,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yesmail Interactive. “That’s really where marketers can get to know their customers on a deeper level.”

As Fisher suggests, however, big data may quickly overwhelm companies without a strategy for handling vast quantities of information. Fortunately, cloud-based APIs are perfect for dealing with big data since they can help companies both analyze and distribute large amounts of digital data.

“If you’ve got big data, an API can help you conform it into a usable format to control structure and access,” Mashery CEO Oren Michels explained. “If you use big data, APIs can help you leverage it for wishes you might not know were possible.”

For example, companies like Aetna that collect billions of pieces of medical data use Mashery-run APIs to share this information with developers in a controlled manner. By letting programmers access certain statistics, Aetna attracted nearly 20 partners whose health and fitness apps continue to boost the company’s revenue and overall image.

Conversely, APIs benefit mashup companies like PadMapper, which relies on big data from Google Maps and Craigslist to make apartment hunting less painful. PadMapper’s combination of these platforms supports Michels’ suggestion that APIs enable serendipitous product creation.

Whether businesses distribute or leverage big data, tools like MongoDB and Hadoop are useful for building APIs that can handle vast data collections. These platforms and others like them streamline the processing procedures for large amounts of often unstructured information.

In addition, startups like 140 Proof and Swipp are now offering big data analysis for specific marketing concerns. 140 Proof extrapolates consumers’ preferences from social media and uses this information to help businesses display more relevant ads.

Similarly, Swipp leverages social media data to determine popular opinion on certain topics, then distributes its findings to retailers via an API so they can better tailor their advertising campaigns.

As big data becomes steadily more necessary for understanding and responding to customer needs, information analysis APIs from Swipp and other companies are likely to gain greater traction.

And since cloud-based APIs require expert management and scalability of the kind Mashery provides, we may help big data become even more useful going into 2013.