If you are watching movies on Netflix, you must have experienced the movie recommendations feature which gives you a list of movies that you might like, based on your previously watched/liked movies.
Have you ever wondered how Netflix comes up with these recommendations?
It is data science; Netflix is employing sophisticated algorithms and statistical methods together with computational power to analyse millions of users’ views to reach a pattern that uniquely applies to you.
That is exactly what data science is looking for, and what data scientists do.
Data science is a method of gleaning insights from structured and unstructured data using approaches ranging from statistical analysis to machine learning. The term data science has been around only in the last decade and it is relevant today because we have tonnes of data available. In the past, we used to worry about lack of data, algorithms, software, or computational and storage capabilities. Now we have all of that at a fraction of the cost.
Data scientists are analytical data experts who have the technical skills to solve complex problems – and the curiosity to explore what problems need to be solved. They analyse data using appropriate tools to communicate their findings to relevant stakeholders.
The skills required of a data scientist are good programming skills, mathematics, statistics and insight into businesses.
Let us take an example again from Netflix. It might seem that the show House of Cards was chosen because Netflix “thought subscribers might like it”. But the truth is much, much deeper and it is all about data science. The $100 million show and one of the most watched TV series in the Netflix library wasn’t green-lighted solely because it seemed like a good plot. The decision was based on a number of factors and seemingly almost entirely on data. Netflix identified that the British version of House of Cards was watched by many subscribers who were also watching movies that starred Kevin Spacey and were directed by David Fincher. This analysis suggested that a US version of House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher would bring in big audiences and thus through big data analytics, Netflix was able to secure its success.
Dr Eid is head of the Department of Mathematics at University of Bahrain