"Analyzing large data sets--so called big data--will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, as long as the right policies and enablers are in place," so writes giant consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute in a major new report this month on the topic.

In LOLCat speak, that might read as Ceiling Cat sees what you are doing and thinks there's much to be gained by analyzing it. Those two ways of seeing big data will come together with today's hire of the first data scientist at the Cheezburger Network, Sean Power, co-author of the O'Reilly book Complete Web Monitoring and a leading voice on extraction of value from data online. With more than 400 million pageviews per month, Cheezburger offers a lot of data to analyze. The company is smart to make this hire now - the talent crunch in this field is expected to grow much worse, quickly.

John Bracken, Director of Digital Media at the Knight Foundation (the leading organization funding experiments in new media), says that the hire of Power by Cheezburger is the kind of move that will define the new normal in the near term future.

"A greenfield for journalism is trying to make sense of the huge amount of data that is now available. As I look over the list of Knight News Challenge winners, that's a common concern among winners: managing data and telling stories out of data.

"For Cheezburger to hire a data scientist, that seems perfectly normal. We saw it with Wikileaks, the amount of data that was dropped on people and the tools that were built to go through that data, when we look back at that a couple of years from now, that amount of data and the tools created to deal with it will look pre-historic.

"Journalism's job is to explain the world to us and explain why things matter to our lives. When news rooms hire people with a data background, you'll see those same people playing that roll by using data."

"I'm going from the top of the stack (finance, ad, core business metrics) all the way down to the individual split tests that developers are creating. Infrastructure metrics, usability metrics, qual and quant metrics. If it has a number or is a qualifier, I'll be interested in making sense out of it, if there's a business reason to do so." -Power on LOLCats
What kinds of data will Power be analyzing? "Absolutely everything," he tells me.
"I'm going from the top of the stack (finance, ad, core business metrics) all the way down to the individual split tests that developers are creating. Infrastructure metrics, usability metrics, qual and quant metrics. If it has a number or is a qualifier, I'll be interested in making sense out of it, if there's a business reason to do so.

"I'll be building a team that will manage, analyze and ultimately productize the results. This means more smiles for people per day, as they're delivered a better experience throughout the Cheezburger network (sorry CEOs of the world, we'll do our best not to completely sink peoples' productivity)."

The story of how one big media company is making a strategic investment in working with its own data is interesting, but the other part of this story is that it was a comedy network who scooped up one of the people who literally wrote the book on advanced web analytics.

The talent crunch for people in this field is expected to be substantial. According to the aforementioned McKinsey report, the demand for engineers capable of working with Big Data is expected to far outstrip the available supply of those people in the next few years - if it's not already. McKinsey says the shortage of management personel capable of seizing competitive advantage from the work of those engineers is expected to be ten times worse.