Get off your nomenclature high horse


Why are trade journalists and bloggers so hell bent on killing the term big data? What difference does it make what we call it? Nobody looks to the term itself for strict definition; they look at what a thing does. It's like arguing over the term "broadband."  Nobody suggested killing the term "social media" despite some of it being quite the opposite of social. Nobody complained about what a Twitter was (for very long.) And Instagram is neither a unit of measure, nor a telegram.

Speaking of which, Richard Shilleto, a Cambridge Greek Scholar, wrote in the London Times in 1857 how appalled he was at the barbarism of calling the Telegraphic Dispatch a "telegram." Even "telegrapheme" would be better he said. But the people spoke and they will in this case too.

I don't want to pick a fight with any of my journalism brethren over this so I won't name names, but if you read about big data then you probably know who they are. They are the ones that get on their semantic high horse called Nomenclature to bemoan the use of the term "big data."

I say, "get over it."

Instead of being glad that some attention is quite unexpectedly being paid to the boring, nerdy cost-center world of data storage and warehousing--meaning people are now pouring oodles of money into it and creating new jobs and launching startups--these high-minded writers try to establish their creds by acting as if they're above the hype, that they aren't falling for this latest marketing fad when, after all, this is high technology and should be taken more seriously.

If there is something wrong with the business models these companies are being founded on, talk about that. If money is being invested in companies that don't have any revenue after two years, talk about that. If the results people are claiming to find through their super analytics turn out to be bogus then expose that. But if you're going to knock the terminology and suggest we stop using it without the creativity to coin your own phrase, then you ought to just shut up about it.

Who cares what it's called? It was a concept in need of a name and it found one. Most companies would kill to get a tagline that became the talk of the town like big data. What matters is that the term caught on, it got people talking about it, and attracted investment and it got vendors in the door.  I suspect that if some of these writers were around when the phrase Internet was first on everyone's lips they would have called for a ban on that. I also suspect they hate Tom Hanks and have never listened to a Top 40 song in their life because they don't like things that get too popular.  If they were around in the 60s, they definitely would have chosen the Stones over the Beatles, not because the Stones were better but because it was cooler to like them and knocking the Beatles got you more attention. Battlestar Galactica versus Star Trek? Battlestar, no doubt.  

Big data is like a nickname. You can't give one to yourself. It just comes out naturally and sticks or it doesn't. And you can't try to apply too much accuracy in a naming convention as technologists and scientists often do. Accurate etymology is just too clunky. I suppose we could call it "Byzantine Instance of Terabyte Exabyte & More than Enterprise data," but someone would just make an acronym out of that, so why not just stick with the one who brought you to the dance and go with big data. It makes people want to understand. It sells.  

Saying you want to kill it is like saying you hate Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). It probably gets you a few thousand hits. Then what?  - Tim           

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