Big data’s role in business innovation

By: news@Northeastern


New assistant professor Christoph Riedl applies his research interests in data science and computational social science to study substantive research questions in areas ranging from online social networks to decision-making, teamwork, and productivity. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

A tweet. A product review on Amazon​.com. A Face­book pic­ture with a loca­tion stamp. All of these rep­re­sent dig­ital foot­prints left behind by online users, and col­lec­tively amount to large data sets—or so called “big data”—that researchers use to ana­lyze human behavior and social trends.

New assis­tant pro­fessor Christoph Riedl will take an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to exam­ining these data to shed light on solu­tions to soci­etal chal­lenges in busi­ness and inno­va­tion. In par­tic­ular, he will apply his inter­ests in data sci­ence and com­pu­ta­tional social sci­ence to study sub­stan­tive research ques­tions in areas such as decision-​​making by indi­vid­uals and groups, online social net­works, and team­work and productivity.

“I’m par­tic­u­larly drawn to how we can use modern com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools, through which large num­bers of people can work together, to solve existing prob­lems or tackle new prob­lems,” said Riedl, who joins the fac­ulty this fall with joint appoint­ments in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness and the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence. Prior to North­eastern, he worked as a post-​​doctoral fellow at Har­vard Busi­ness School and Har­vard University’s Insti­tute for Quan­ti­ta­tive Social Science.

One of his ongoing projects is focused on word-​​of-​​mouth. While pos­i­tive online word of mouth is known to drive product sales, Riedl said less is known about what drives word-​​of-​​mouth itself. He exam­ined 280,000 online con­sumer reviews of more than 430 movies, focusing on the volume of and dis­agree­ment among pre­vi­ously posted film reviews. Fur­ther, he looked at how those fac­tors influ­ence whether someone new is likely to chime in and how pre­vious reviews may influ­ence the new reviewer’s take. He found that dis­agree­ment draws more people into the con­ver­sa­tion, but that people’s reviews are often influ­enced by what others have argued.

Iden­ti­fying such social influ­ence, he explained, can help researchers better under­stand the joint decision-​​making process in business.

In other research, Riedl is exploring whether social media activity can pro­vide the same rich, tan­gible social con­nec­tions formed in the real world. After sur­veying Twitter users and using data col­lected directly from Twitter to observe their online activity, Riedl and his col­leagues found that social aware­ness, social pres­ence, and usage fre­quency have a direct effect on social con­nect­ed­ness and do indeed help people build social capital.

Riedl will con­tinue to work on inno­v­a­tive projects like these as a member of the NULab for Texts, Maps and Net­works—the university’s research-​​based center for Dig­ital Human­i­ties and Com­pu­ta­tional Social Science.

To illus­trate the big-​​picture impli­ca­tions of big data, he noted that for example geo-​​location data from Twitter posts could help shed light on how indi­vid­uals and groups behave; how they migrate on a city level; and how their activity varies when they’re com­muting to work com­pared to when they’re relaxing on the weekend.

“It’s a rich envi­ron­ment to study human behavior,” he said.