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The data behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Founder and chief data artist, NewSci, LLC

This past summer we witnessed an incredible phenomenon seemingly capturing the world by storm: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Facebook estimates 28 million people posted about ALS between June 1 and August 28, including comments and tags. 2.4 million videos also were created on YouTube, spreading the word like wildfire.

The outcome for ALS is extraordinary. Last reported, around $115-million has been donated to help rid the planet of the debilitating disease known as Lou Gehrig's. While the fundraising component of this unique initiative is indeed fascinating, and highly covered, NewSci’s perspective involves the transformational story begging to be gleaned from this initiative: simply put, the way we capture and interact with data is about to change forever. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge demonstrates that we have been walking blindly past valuable opportunities for decades.

Datagram_v40-121114.jpgEvery day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data—so much that 90 percent of data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. While quite mind-boggling, this does begin to put into perspective how little information we have compiled in our nonprofit databases. In the nonprofit sector, the pace of strategy creation over the last five decades has been set by the speed at which humans manually input information into data fields. The Ice Bucket Challenge created a large volume of posts, comments and YouTube videos, making it abundantly clear our current systems were never designed for the realities and trends of today’s donor behaviors.

The prospect of utilizing Hadoop to create vast data reservoirs capturing real time information truly represents an incredible opportunity for philanthropy. Think about it. How well would ALS have been served to know what percent of the 2.4 million videos were created by individuals with an immediate family member afflicted by the disease? Big data capabilities can capture this information from YouTube videos and make connections to other ALS supporters already housed in traditional databases. Big data analytics can inform nonprofits on targeting messages rapidly into meaningful segments, and also use the same insights to bump conversion rates from videos to donations, exponentially.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge created and presented for the world to witness an incredible display of human connections and interactions via the web and social media. These collaborations make it crystal clear the clunky systems carrying the nonprofit sector to this point over the last 50 years are no longer capable of being the knowledge partner our sector requires to connect with today’s donor population. Our traditional systems, designed in the 1950’s, simply cannot keep pace with the volume, velocity and variety of data created daily.

Would you be willing to cross the busiest street in your area blindfolded with information five minutes old? The nonprofit sector is taking that walk daily with dated systems unable to develop strategy effectively and in real time. 

Can you help us use #hadoop4good and leverage data to make a difference? Join the Big Data for Social Good Challenge.