To be honest, when the term Big Data was first coined in 2000 – and then found its way onto the main stage about a decade or so ago, I wasn’t a fan. I’m still not. Not that Big Data isn’t important, because it is. It’s just that the term meant everything and nothing all at once.
As “big data” became a catch all for everything related to data, its actual meaning got diluted, obfuscated, and basically more confusing than it was meant to be. The industry wide “big data washing” got tired, as evidenced by more than a few eye rolls and sighs every time it makes its way onto a presentation slide.
For lack of a better term, why not just call it what it is: data. The problem is that when all data is big data, it needs to be put into terms of size, scale and context with regards to your audience and the topic or business matter at hand.
To better understand the problem with the term big data, let’s start with the sheer size of data today. A few years back, what used to be referred to as big data can now be managed in an Excel spreadsheet. Today, data conversations talk in terms of billions of rows and terabytes, petabytes, and exabytes. As big data scales, so does its context, therefore weakening its original meaning. The data is only going to get bigger.
To wrap your head around just how large data sets will be, it helps to think of data like a galaxy. A generation ago, people talked incredulously about the distance from the earth to the sun being 93 million miles. Yet today, in the context of data, those millions of miles are the equivalent of a walk around the block. Data is growing at such as rapid pace that it’s moved beyond the sun, past the Milky Way and is cruising through galaxy after galaxy.
That’s no longer big data. It’s something entirely different and worthy of new terminology. Through the years, quite a few marketers and engineers have tried their hand at coming up with a more descriptive, and ideally, a cleverer term. We don’t have one yet either. Still, one thing is clear, big data has outgrown its name. In the interim, we’ll just call it “data”.