Sometimes maligned, buzzwords provide the organizing structure for our discourse about tech. They give us something to buzz about (pun intended) and provide grist for media stories and topics for monetizing analyst reports, advice, and conferences.
Let's explore buzzwords, examining their role and discussing the more popular ones in the tech world. In particular, let's look at "Big Data" and reports about its state. Is it true that Big Data (as a buzzword) is dead?
Buzzwords can be irritating, especially when they're hyped or confusing. But they are incredibly important as they relate to the larger topic of technology adoption and markets. Buzzwords, like what they label, have life cycles.
You can gain a lot by getting in early and riding the growing wave of interest in a tech segment. If you can claim leadership in a hot area, you can get media coverage and speaking slots on conference panels more easily. People pay attention to you; you're the belle of the ball. Jump in late... and you are a wannabe.
Moreover, there's a correlation between technology and buzzword adoption, and also a point at which they may diverge. The hype might die down when technology hits the mainstream, but that does not mean the tech is not still relevant or useful.
It's just that the term has hit the Platform of Productivity, in the parlance of IT analyst firm Gartner Group. The tech just works and is accepted. No big deal.
Big Data Buzzkill
Industry watchers like to handicap technology and the buzzwords that label them, chart their growth, and bet on their inevitable decline. Being the first one to say "This [tech] is dead" can be a great way to get attention.
That's what has happened to Big Data over the past few months, as we've seen articles like Is Big Data Still a Thing? by Matt Turck, an organizer of the hugely popular Data Driven NYC Meet-up. He wrote, "In a tech startup industry that loves its shiny new objects, the term Big Data is in the unenviable position of sounding increasingly 'three years ago.'"
Moreover, The New IP ran a story Is Big Data Dead? that stated, "Big Data—it's the heavyweight champion of tech hype in the past few years. But suddenly it seems to have gone quiet. Is it dead? One could be forgiven for thinking so. But no, it isn't dead. It's just passed the top of the hype cycle."
Call in the Referees
There needs to be an arbiter of buzz. In the tech world, many turn to the Gartner Group's Hype Cycle, a methodology and graph for charting tech and related buzzwords.
In late 2015, the term Big Data suddenly dropped off the Gartner Hype Cycle. Its exclusion of the term created a stir... and some confusion.
Datanami aimed to clear this up in its story Why Gartner Dropped Big Data off the Hype Curve, which quoted Betsy Burton, Gartner analyst and Hype Cycle report author: "We've retired the Big Data hype cycle… What's happening is that Big Data has quickly moved over the Peak of Inflated Expectations and has become prevalent in our lives across many hype cycles. So Big Data has become a part of many hype cycles."
That seemed to be an unsatisfying explanation. We work in the tech PR field and represent many clients who work in the big data field. From where I sit (and I can say others agree, based on conversations), Big Data continues to be a hot topic.
So, what is the reality? Is this a case where a technology matures, is accepted, and does not generate much excitement or chatter? Regardless of the state of adoption, is Big Data the buzzword still trending?
To get an answer, I contacted my friends at Newswhip, a powerful platform that tracks and offers comprehensive real-time data on millions of stories a day. I asked them to take the pulse of the phrase Big Data and compare it with other popular tech buzzwords.
Tracking Big Data "In the Wild"
Newswhip charted Big Data vs. other hot buzzwords, including virtual reality, Internet of things, fintech, blockchain, and cloud computing.
Newswhip Marketing Director Will Bancroft explained that its system shows mentions of the keywords in content objects created by people across the Internet. "I'd say the results make the claimed death of Big Data, as a buzzword, appear overstated. The label still has some legs, based on its popularity."
I also plugged some terms into Social Mention, a free site that charts up-to-the-minute buzz. As you can see from the images below, Big Data has comparable (and in some cases, more impressive) numbers than other terms.
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The lesson here is that there is not one arbiter of buzz. Sure, Gartner Group is influential—but judging hype and buzz is increasingly a numbers game, and the tools are improving. You don't need to guess or take the gurus' word for it.