The influence and value of Big Data on innovation and efficiency growth in many areas of human activity is no longer in doubt. Big Data is a variety of tools, approaches, and methods for processing an enormous amount of structured and unstructured data in order to use it for specific tasks and purposes. Its analysis helps organizations create new products and services and make the most successful decisions. IBM claims that every day the world creates two and a half quintillion bytes of data, the use of which brings significant financial benefits to the manufacturing, defense, transportation, utilities, resources, and IT markets [SAGE Automation, 2018].
However, whether Big Data is needed for culture and art is not yet completely clear. To keep up with new technologies, we undoubtedly need to use all the possibilities. On the other hand, are volumes of information in art, culture and humanities so large that they can be compared with economy, business and industry? Nevertheless, many experts believe that these technologies can help in creating new values, even if they are aesthetic [García, 2014].
Since, thanks to the proliferation of devices such as smartphones and tablets, the measurability of a person’s daily life is growing at an amazing pace, the cultural aspects of life produced by man or humanity as a whole are also being measured. These include large-scale data mining for generating and improving metadata, new visualization methods, three-dimensional models of immovable and movable cultural heritage objects, search and storage of very large digital libraries, and new approaches to digital processing.
In essence, the humanities have already worked with big data. Thus, in 1972, a group of classical scientists created the project “Thesaurus Linguae Graecae”, which scanned large tracts of Greek and Latin literature, and in France in 1984, the project FRANTEXT was created, which includes the study of the use of words in French over a long period of time. Professor Alison Booth compiled the “Collective Biographies of Women” database, which contains biographies of approximately 14,016 women [Fermanis, 2018].
However, the growth of the Internet, social networks and digitized historical archives has led to an enormous amount of textual data in recent years. At the same time, absolutely new trends are forming – in addition to analyzing historical artifacts, modern digital visual culture is emerging: along with the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, 20,000 photographs from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York or one million pages of manga published over the past 30 years, experts carefully examine and analyze artifacts created by non-professional photographers and artists outside the official art world, drawn on social networks such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Millions of such photos allow you to create interactive installations of cities, streets and squares [Manovich, 2017].
The culture and aesthetics of the Internet not only inspired many writers, artists, designers and musicians to experiment with new formats and materials, but also pushed the new generations of creative people who had never considered themselves artists to produce creative works. Relations between artists, cultural organizations and their audiences have radically changed, social networks have become the space of a new type of cultural production and even spawned a science called Digital Humanities, which studies not only content but also those processes that allow working with this content, changing and enriching it. Archives are transformed into platforms on which users can not only search and find information but add new ones, share it and form new projects and landscapes, connecting content from different databases stored in different formats, such as images, text and sound files. Representatives of various professions and disciplines – historians, linguists, artists, musicians, geographers, designers, and computer engineers participate in these joint projects.
An example of this kind of development is the “Digital Roman Forum” project, carried out by the Cultural Virtual Reality Laboratory at the University of California in Los Angeles. Scientists have created a three-dimensional model of the Roman Forum, which has become a user interface. It includes a series of cameras aimed at various monuments that are reproduced in the project, allowing you to compare historical reproduction with modern images. It also provides detailed information on various historical documents that refer to these places and which were used for reproduction.
Another one, “Pelagios Project”, dedicated to the reconstruction of the Ancient World, is based on the creation of a map that links historical geospatial data with content from other online sources. When users access a point on the map interface, they get a heterogeneous set of information, which includes images, translations, quotes, bibliographies, and other maps that can be exported to several file formats.
Big Data can also provide insights into how to further develop and select tools for mapping cultural media, classifying cultural elements and interpreting cultural evolution over the centuries [Álvaro. 2013]. Theoretically, Big Data can also be used to put the results of ethnographic, historical, anthropological expeditions into broader cultural contexts, although many scientists warn that Big Data methods should be considered only as an addition, not a substitute, to tried and tested methods of the humanities.
There are other, more pragmatic aspects of the use of Big Data by organizations involved in art and culture. They can find out who their audience is and find ways to expand it and collaborate with it in innovative ways. Big Data provides opportunities to understand their users, identify problems that can be addressed through new initiatives and programs, measure how their activities contribute to creating popularity and influence in local and global communities, and even increase revenue streams in the arts and culture.
In order to realize their full potential and in accordance with the requirements of the 21st century, representatives of art and culture will have to master new skills in working with data, develop analytical skills, update their approaches to activities and processes, understand the behavior and preferences of the audience, and learn to communicate with them as with partners. Open data also leads to the development of new applications and services, which contributes to greater efficiency of the creative sector [Beckett, 2016]. Obviously, the future of using Big Data in the field of culture depends on cooperation between cultural scientists, computer scientists, programmers, linguists, sociologists, and many other professionals and artists.
As for Kazakhstan, it is too early to talk about the implementation of Big Data in the sphere of culture and art. To date, the most successful attempts have been made by the state in the framework of the “Digital Kazakhstan” and “Smart City” programs. Large companies are trying to introduce these data processing and analysis tools, but all the movements of the public and private sectors are still at the initial stage, and we have not come to Digital Humanities level. The lack of specialists, in general, does not yet allow us to speak about the high efficiency of using Big Data in Kazakhstani culture [Caravan.kz, 2018].
Álvaro, Sandra (2013). Big Data and Digital Humanities: From social computing to the challenges of connected culture. Retrieved from http://lab.cccb.org/en/big-data-and-digital-humanities-from-social-computing-to-the-challenges-of-connected-culture/. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
Beckett, Charles (2016). Digital Transformation in Cultural Organisations. Retrieved from http://lab.cccb.org/en/digital-transformation-in-cultural-organisations/. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
Caravan.kz (2018). Big Data in Kazakhstan: what hinders the effectiveness of technology use? Retrieved from https://www.caravan.kz/news/big-data-v-kazakhstane-chto-meshaet-ehffektivnosti-ispolzovaniya-tekhnologii-465330/. Accessed on 22.05.2019.
Fermanis, Porscha (2018). Digital Cultures, Big Data and Society. Retrieved from http://southhem.org/2018/02/20/digital-cultures-big-data-and-society/. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
García, Juan Mateos (2014). The Art of Analytics: Using bigger data to create value in the arts and cultural sector. Retrieved from http://lab.cccb.org/en/the-art-of-analytics-using-bigger-data-to-create-value-in-the-arts-and-cultural-sector/. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
Manovich, Lev (2017). Cultural Analytics, Social Computing and Digital Humanities. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1v2xsqn.8. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
SAGE Automation (2018). Developing a ‘data culture’ in the age of big data. Retrieved from https://www.sageautomation.com/blog/developing-a-data-culture-in-the-age-of-big-data. Accessed on 20.05.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Nadirova Gulnar Ermuratovna graduated from the Oriental Faculty of Leningrad State University, in 1990 she defended her thesis on the Algerian literature at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, in 2006 doctoral thesis - on modern Tunisian literature at the Tashkent Institute of Oriental Studies, Professor.