Big Data and Hype: Where Are We Now?
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Sure, most of us have heard some fascinating success stories:
- Netflix uses a fascinating pastiche of information to predict movie preferences.
- Target knew about a teenager’s pregnancy before her own father did.
But are most everyday business users and organizations really doing anything with Big Data?
I’ve been saying for years that the hype exceeds the reality. I was curious to see if that remained the case at the Evanta CIO Summit in Phoenix, AZ. (I spoke there and participated in a roundtable about the adoption of Big Data—or lack thereof.)
If the attendees I met served as a representative sample, it’s clear to me that we are still in the early innings. As for why this is the case, allow me to posit a few reasons.
The Hype Lives On
First, there’s still widespread confusion about the very definition of Big Data. That’s arguably just as true today as it was when Wiley published Too Big to Ignore in 2013.
Second, there’s been a veritable explosion in the number of tools that can handle, process, and store unstructured data. Sure, Hadoop is the elephant in the room (pun intended), but there are many NoSQL ways to make sense of Big Data. The CIO across from me recently spearheaded his organization’s Cassandra efforts.
Third, thanks to the rise of application program interfaces (APIs), it has never been easier for organizations to capture data that lies outside of their perimeters. That’s all fine and dandy, but what do you do with it? Isn’t that the more important question?
Here’s where things at the conference got pretty interesting. The CIO from Republic Services mentioned how the company grabs information from the Twitter firehose. During a winter storm last year, a customer tweeted a picture of an overturned trash container with the note “Thanks #Republic.”
What type of signal does that represent? Was the customer thanking Republic for doing its best to pick up trash under wintry conditions? Or was the customer ridiculing the company for turning over its container and forcing her to pick it up? Put differently, was said tweet praise or criticism? If a human being can’t make this determination, then how can a computer? (One thought: Perhaps subsequent tweets or mentions on other social-media sites might provide clues as to her intent.)
Simon Says: We’re getting there…slowly.
Brass tacks: Despite claims still contrary, “everyone” is most certainly not “doing” Big Data—and I don’t see that changing soon. It’s evident to me, though, that more organizations that ever are considering taking the plunge. In my view at least, that represents some form of progress. We’ve still got a long way to go.