Mike Isaac

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Twitter Takes Big Data to School

It’s that time of year again. The tinsel is hung, annoying music is playing nonstop and university classes are winding down while students prep for exams before the holidays.

That includes the students from Professor Marti Hearst’s class at the University of California at Berkeley, all of whom just finished off a semester entrenched in data sets sliced straight from the Twitter fire hose, after taking a course called I290: “Analyzing Big Data with Twitter.”

It was essentially a crash course in Twitter’s big-data practices. The engineering and math students enrolled spent half the semester in a lecture hall listening to a host of guest product managers and engineers from Twitter, who explained the company’s approaches to analyzing and dealing with the massive amount of data that flows through Twitter’s pipes every single moment.

For data nerds (and wonks like me who follow the company), the course was a treat, as Twitter top brass like VP of Growth Othman Laraki stopped in to deliver lectures on some of the company’s best practices and philosophies when, for example, it comes to growth strategy. Other visitors included data systems engineers, search and relevance team members, and a former Twitter anti-spam/security expert.

When the course neared its end last week, some 40 students from Professor Hearst’s course visited Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco and presented their small group projects created using Twitter data.

Bummed you missed out on the course? Fret not. Professor Hearst posted video lectures from the semester on her blog at the UC Berkeley School of Information. It’s all super-geeky stuff, but fascinating to watch if you’re at all interested in how Twitter makes sense of all the data that comes its way on a regular basis. (I recommend Laraki’s talk in particular — Twitter’s approach to growth is key to watch over the next few years, as the company continues to scale.)

Or, you know, you could just skip it and party like a true undergrad for all of winter break.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work