Don't Diss Big Data

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Over at Kirkley Communications, John Kirkley writes that Big Data is a megatrend that is not going away anytime soon.


Big Data is under seige. Or at least the term is. Recently it seems that there have been a spate of articles labeling the frenetic marketing activity around Big Data as the worst kind of overblown hype.

Users of the technology are headed, warns Gartner sourly, into the trough of disillusionment. The bloom is off the rose – Big Data has become a tattered cliché full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Writing in Venture Beat, John De Goes says, “’Big data’ is dead. Vendors killed it. Well, industry leaders helped, and the media got the ball rolling, but vendors hold the most responsibility for the painful, lingering death of one of the most overhyped and poorly understood terms since the phrase “cloud computing.”

(Regarding cloud computing, Larry Ellison is reputed to have said back in 2008, “Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea of what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane.”)

De Goes says that Big Data is actually made up of several related components, among them predictive analytics, smart data, data science, and NewSQL (horizontally distributed SQL systems). Smart data, he asserts, is the term that will replace Big Data in the hallways of hype.

Well maybe. But let’s pause a moment before we give Big Data the old heave ho – and perhaps have second thoughts about the term “cloud computing” while we’re at it.

Granted that descriptors like these are a marketeer’s dream and the temptation to ramp up the hype machine is irresistible.

But the very fact that the terms Big Data and cloud computing are ill defined and seemingly overused is actually all to the good. They tend to act as a shifting, constantly morphing container that puts a fuzzy, flexible boundary around an area of human endeavor. They provide a framework within which researchers, computer scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs can ply their talents without being rigidly constrained within the boundaries of an overly reified discipline.

It means that whatever Big Data means can be defined and redefined in a dozen different ways as the technology underpinning the term morphs to accommodate new ideas and new demands from users and vendors alike. It provides a consensus that we can rally around without painting ourselves into a corner.

Here in Portland, Oregon, we have a city motto that you can see on T-shirts, bumper stickers and the sides of buildings. It reads, “Keep Portland weird.”

Well, let’s keep Big Data hyped. Like other terms that have come and gone in the rough and tumble computer marketplace, this one deserves to be around for a while until its full lifecycle is played out.

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