The origin of the phrase big data (in its current context) is somewhat cloudy, but the New York Times has a great story delving into it. The author points to the popularisation of the term in the 1990s in the high-tech community in Silicon Valley.
Looking at the number of Google searches on the phrase, interest in it began to pick up pace in mid-2011 and really took off between 2012 and 2013.
However, according to one highly-regarded data professional, the phrase has become “cultural, almost like a meme.” He went on to say: “I don't like using it because I think it's confusing. It's easier just to explain what it is that you are actually trying to say. For me, it is buzzwordy.”
He said that everyone has their own view of it and so it means different things to different people. “To a lot of people, big data just means loads of it. Therefore, it’s meaningless.”
"It is a handle for making data management fashionable.”
The data expert said that there are lots of articles out there which talk about the impact of big data on organisations. “Actually, what they are talking about most of the time is not big data. It's just good data processing practice or good data management practice, and they are just using it as a handle for making data management fashionable,” he said.
He sees nothing wrong with that and, in fact, thinks it is a good idea. But someone saying they are analysing big data doesn’t necessarily means that they are processing petabytes of data on multiple processing or parallel processing environment. All it means is they are using data effectively in organisations.
He said: “I would like big data to mean the application of good science and management methodology to extremely large data sets to get meaning and business benefit out of them.”
Taking another look at the Google search trends graph, you will see that interest in the phrase goes through peaks and troughs with spikes usually seen between March and April and again between October and November. Big data hit peak popularity in March 2017. The subsequent autumn and spring highs were never quite so heady.
The data expert also thinks that the hype around big data is dying down. “I think these days people hopefully recognise that data has value in an organisation and they don't need to surround it with a buzzword and just talk about the process that they need to do,” he said.
So, if big data is really on the way out, what short, catchy term will we say instead?