Mind. Prepare to be blown. Big Data, Wikipedia and Government.

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David Eaves

Okay, super psyched about this. Back at the Strata Conference in Feb (in San Diego) I introduced my long time uber-quant friend and now Wikimedia Foundation data scientist Diederik Van Liere to fellow Gov2.0 thinker Nicholas Gruen (Chairman) and Anthony Goldbloom (Founder and CEO) of an awesome new company called Kaggle.

As usually happens when awesome people get together… awesomeness ensued. Mind. Be prepared to be blown.

So first, what is Kaggle? They’re a company that helps companies and organizations post their data and run competitions with the goal of having it scrutinized by the world’s best data scientists towards some specific goal. Perhaps the most powerful example of a Kaggle competition to date was their HIV prediction competition, in which they asked contestants to use a data set to find markers in the HIV sequence which predict a change in the severity of the infection (as measured by viral load and CD4 counts).

Until Kaggle showed up the best science to date had a prediction rate of 70% – a feat that had taken years to achieve. In 90 days contributors to the contest were able to achieve a prediction rate of 77%. A 10% improvement. I’m told that achieving an similar increment had previously taken something close to a decade. (Data geeks can read how the winner did it here and here.)

Diederik and Anthony have created a similar competition, but this time using Wikipedia participation data. As the competition page outlines:

This competition challenges data-mining experts to build a predictive model that predicts the number of edits an editor will make in the five months after the end date of the training dataset. The dataset is randomly sampled from the English Wikipedia dataset from the period January 2001 – August 2010.

The objective of this competition is to quantitively understand what factors determine editing behavior. We hope to be able to answer questions, using these predictive models, why people stop editing or increase their pace of editing.

This is of course, a subject matter that is dear to me as I’m hoping that we can do similar analysis in open source communities – something Diederik and I have tried to theorize with Wikipedia and actually do Bugzilla data.

There is a grand prize of $5000 (along with a few others) and, amazingly, already 15 participants and 7 submissions.

Finally, I hope public policy geeks, government officials and politicians are paying attention. There is power in data and an opportunity to use it to find efficiencies and opportunities. Most governments probably don’t even know how to approach an organization like Kaggle or to run a competition like this, despite (or because?) it is so fast, efficient and effective.

It shouldn’t be this way.

If you are in government (or any org), check out Kaggle. Watch. Learn. There is huge opportunity here.

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