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How Big Data Became So Big

THIS has been the crossover year for Big Data — as a concept, as a term and, yes, as a marketing tool. Big Data has sprung from the confines of technology circles into the mainstream.

First, here are a few, well, data points: Big Data was a featured topic this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with a report titled “Big Data, Big Impact.” In March, the federal government announced $200 million in research programs for Big Data computing.

Rick Smolan, creator of the “Day in the Life” photography series, has a new project in the works, called “The Human Face of Big Data.” The New York Times has adopted the term in headlines like “The Age of Big Data” and “Big Data on Campus.” And a sure sign that Big Data has arrived came just last month, when it became grist for satire in the “Dilbert” comic strip by Scott Adams. “It comes from everywhere. It knows all,” one frame reads, and the next concludes that “its name is Big Data.”        

The Big Data story is the making of a meme. And two vital ingredients seem to be at work here. The first is that the term itself is not too technical, yet is catchy and vaguely evocative. The second is that behind the term is an evolving set of technologies with great promise, and some pitfalls.

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