Is Big Data a Bubble?
In case you’re in a hurry: Of course it is. And that is good.
Longer version: Last week there were several events that convinced me that one of the great tech bubbles inflating right now is around what people have agreed to call “Big Data.” Basically the term reflects the fact that its now so easy to digitize and put on the Internet all kinds of information — things as diverse as the measurements of passive sensors, most or all the world’s books, 200 million tweets a day and most of the world’s significant financial transactions — that the data is growing enormously.
Big Data is really about, however, the benefits we will gain by cleverly sifting through it to find and exploit new patterns and relationships. You see it now in things like Facebook ads, which are put in front of you because the posts you have read and contributed to (which Facebook’s algorithms get to examine as the price of this “free” service) indicate you might be ready to buy the advertised good.
Other companies look at air and soil data to write insurance about crop production. Further out, people want to seek patterns in raw medical data for possible causes and cures for disease, bypassing much of the old hypothesis-experiment model; this article from Wired tells of how the Google co-founder Sergey Brin used this in Parkinson’s research.
Last week’s gathering of the tech tribes, the Web 2.0 conference, focused heavily on the benefits of the ubiquity of Big Data — ad placement at Google, Coca-Cola vending machines that develop a personal relationship with the buyer, or what Facebook algorithms are doing to the cultivation of our souls. Microsoft held a one-hour session for developers on all the big, reliable databases it would offer them to make new products.