As the New York Times claimed last weekend, 2012 is truly turning out to be the year big-data crossed over from being a topic of interest to tech gurus, IT managers, and geeks, to being a concept understood and embraced by the public domain.
You'd expect a site like Internet Evolution to be hashing out the good and bad news about big-data in the context of business intelligence and predictive analytics, but when it starts showing up in headlines, and even comic strips, it's surely time for its close-up:
The New York Times has adopted the term in headlines like 'The Age of Big Data' and 'Big Data on Campus.' And a sure sign that Big Data has arrived came just last month, when it became grist for satire in the 'Dilbert' comic strip by Scott Adams. 'It comes from everywhere. It knows all,' one frame reads, and the next concludes that 'its name is Big Data.'
We may even be looking at a coming wave of big-data jokes:
When I asked my friend, Gartner VP Merv Adrian, what a Data Scientist was, he answered: 'a Data Scientist is a Data Analyst who lives in San Francisco.'
And even big-data couture:
This might all mean that everyone is getting familiar with the concept of large, unstructured data sets, and their importance in the enterprise and in public life. Or it might just confirm that we're comfortable with mocking what we don't really understand.
According to the Times report, even some specialists have expressed skepticism about the value and scope of the term itself. Jon Kleinberg, a computer scientist at Cornell University, calls it "vague, but... getting at something real." Jim Davis, CMO at SAS, "scoffed at it initially," before jumping "on the bandwagon." Elsewhere, tech journalist Michael Miller has condemned it as a mere buzzword.
This is understandable. I'm the first to argue that there's nothing new about analytics as such. Ask Aristotle. Data-sets have been steadily growing for years -- and truly gigantic sets, like the 15 petabytes produced annually by the Large Hadron Collider are irrelevant to business purposes, let alone everyday life.
Others will argue, however -- and I'm increasingly convinced they're right -- that it's not just the scale of data, but it's velocity and variety, which are game changers. The Library of Congress is a large data set, if you like, but it's not being supplemented at blinding speed in real-time, unlike, for example, the genomic databases discussed by NextBio's Satnam Alag, our guest on last month's Smarter Analytics Clan radio show.
This month -- this coming Thursday, in fact, I'll be talking with Gil Elbaz, co-creator of Oingo Adsense (later purchased by Google), founder and CEO of Factual, and just the person to ask about big-data's soaring profile.
Just how many terabytes of data is he storing on Factual's databases, and how? What tools does he use to analyze it? Above all, what's its velocity? And are we truly getting to grips with big-data, or just laughing nervously about something which can seem too big to handle?
Join me on Thursday, August 16 at 2:00 p.m. EDT for Smarter Analytics Clan radio.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution