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The gold rush over big data

Often in the online world, a new set of buzzwords like ‘big data’ goes from being something known only in the technology world to something that is mentioned frequently in mainstream media. Like many other technology buzzwords, the reality of big data was happening long before the media hype, and long before the technology world even gave it a name.

A short definition of big data is the analysis of sets of data that are so large or so complex that it is difficult for conventional data analysis tools and techniques to make sense of it all. Because tools and technologies change, what may have been a difficult big data challenge during the era of Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s becomes a middle school science fair project in 2012.

Modern big data problems included weather forecasting and designing search engines. Much of the media hype revolves around big data issues that could result in big profits for private companies. Some, like Michael Fertik of the company Reputation.com, are quite keen on the idea that individuals and companies can benefit from using big data related technology to manage their online reputations.

While the concept of using a third party to manage online reputations may be validated by the marketplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a person or a company must pay a third party in order to benefit from big data related technology.

Many of the basic tools of big data are widely available to the public at no charge. The key to making the technology useful and valuable is the skills that are applied when using those tools.

Perhaps the most common example is the search engine. The largest search engines such as Google and Bing cost billions to develop and many millions per month to operate, yet they can be used without charge by anyone 24 hours a day for whatever purposes they have in mind.

Over time, most people who use search engines regularly come up with ways to use search engines to improve their lives or their businesses, and in most cases without paying for an expert or a company to do so on their behalf.

The rush by companies to capitalize on big data related business opportunities has many of the elements that existed in previous booms and busts related to gold, oil, and in the 1990s version of the Internet. Like the gold rushes of the past, some companies will likely become fabulously rich from the gold, many more may become as rich or even richer from activities that support the gold rush, but the vast majority won’t find a fortune and will likely not survive until the next gold rush.

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