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ELI5: Define Unstructured Data

“Explain like I’m five” or ELI5, is an idea that started on Twitter (#ELI5)  and spawned the Explain Like I’m Five subreddit. ELI5 takes a complex idea or concept and goes through the mental exercise of simplifying it in a way that a young child can understand.

In this BENlabs take on ELI5, we’ll hit on some common — and not so common — terms relating to marketing, influence, and AI and do our best to distill them into simple terms without losing too much of the nuance.

Define Unstructured Data in ELI5

Think about a jigsaw puzzle in a box. You have all the pieces you need in one place, you have a picture on the box, and the pieces can only really be put together in one way. With a little time, most people would be able to put all of the pieces together into a clear picture that’s just like the one on the front of the box. That’s structured data.

jigsaw puzzle pieces

Now, think about a bag that has the pieces from a bunch of different jigsaw puzzles all mixed together. Some pieces are bigger, some are smaller. Some of the pieces come from puzzles that have 50 pieces, some come from puzzles that have 500 pieces. Some of the pieces even fit together even though they come from different puzzles. Most people wouldn’t even know where to start putting the pieces together. That’s unstructured data.

For marketers, structured data is easy to put together to see a picture; likes on social media and answers to yes/no questions or ratings from one to five stars for example. ,

For marketers, unstructured data is hard to put together to see a picture. It’s like that mixed up bag, but instead of puzzle pieces, it’s all the different things people say in social media posts, in customer reviews, in emails, and even in pictures and videos. There’s a picture in there but it’s impossible to figure out what it looks like until all the puzzle pieces have been organized and put together. 

That’s where predictive AI and machine learning AI come to the rescue. AI is like having a super smart friend who’s really good at finding patterns. It can sift through all of the different puzzle pieces and figure out how they all fit together.

If AI was solving our messy jigsaw puzzle problem, it would find patterns across all the different puzzle pieces to sort them properly, and then put them all together for us so we could see the picture. 

When AI solves the unstructured data problem for marketers, it does very much the same thing; it looks for patterns, finds out which pieces fit where, and gives us the clear picture we’re looking for.

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