Virtual mall for big data: Beijing company takes e-commerce into the realm of abstract assets

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 8:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 8:18pm

A Beijing-based company has launched an online mall for big data assets, enabling service providers and independent researchers to trade these large chunks of information as they would daily goods.

In the information technology industry, big data refers to extremely large or complex sets of data that can be analysed with high-performance computers to spot patterns, trend and associations.

Data Mall, a subsidiary of Beijing Datatang Technology, sells products such as 1,000 hours of Chinese-language speech recorded in the distinctive Shanghai dialect for 450,000 yuan (US$68,434). This can then be used by other parties to, for example, develop apps with more precise voice-recognition software for specific segments of the Chinese population.

If raw data were crude oil, then we, as a big data company, would rank as a refinery
Xiao Yonghong, Datatang

Big data is becoming a big industry in China. The industry is expected to be worth 800 billion yuan in China alone by 2020, according to a report by consulting firm Guang Zheng Hang Sang, a joint venture between Guangzhou Securities and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Bank.

“Demand for big data resources is soaring and Datatang is well-positioned to monetise its vast collection of data,” said Wen Chaohui, an analyst from Guang Zheng Hang Seng.

Established in 2011, Datatang started as an aggregator for academics looking for research papers and figures when big data was not a popular business concept, said Xiao Yonghong, co-founder and vice-president of Datatang.

The early start puts the company in an advantageous position.

“Now no company will sell their raw data as cheaply as they did before. They may not even sell it at all,” Xiao said.

Datatang also provides data-tailoring services to help customers collect data and make data products according to their needs, it said.

Everything sold in the virtual mall comes from Datatang or one of its partners, according to the company.

The model varies from that of eBay or Taobao - the latter is run by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba - as it allows anyone to sell data. This is because raw data holds little value unless it is properly processed.

“If raw data were crude oil, then we, as a big data company, would rank as a refinery,” said Xiao.

The company aggregates open data and collects raw data through its crowd-sourcing apps. Contributing members of the public get paid by Datatang for each “task” they finish that helps bolster the company’s database. They can, for example, earn 0.1 yuan (US$0.02) by uploading their daily schedule online for processing.

According to a research report by Guan Zheng Hang Seng, Datatang now has more than 460,000 users supplying raw data.

“China’s mass population is a bonus to the big data industry,” said Xiao.

Datatang also benefits from the Chinese government’s ambitions vis-a-vis big data, which is encoded in the country’s 13th Five-year plan, a series of development initiatives that will guide the country’s development from 2016 to 2020.

“Local governments now are more willing to open up their data collection to us, and they now understand big data much better than before,” Xiao said.

The company attracted investment of 240 million yuan last year, taking its valuation to 2.4 billion yuan. It earned 19 million yuan in the first half 2015, representing more than 345 per cent growth on-year.