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The Origins of the Term "Big Data"

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It may have come about innocuously enough, in an article written in 1989 about organizations mining data for marketing purposes. The article was written by now-author Erik Larson and first used the lacking-of-capitals term "big data" to describe the spread of personal information and the inherent conflict between privacy concerns and value to organizations.

In a recent blog post, Dan Barker argues that this is the true origin of the term Big Data even though a 2013 article in the New York Times claimed otherwise.

Despite the dated & simplistic example, this is of course what many people today worry about: what governments try to regulate, where companies spend millions setting up & utilising systems, what we use in real time to deliver relevant ads to people as they browse websites, and – with a little stretching – what much of the NSA/Edward Snowden stuff was about. It is an article from 1989 talking about one of the biggest issues in technology today.

This original 1989 usage was not credited by the original New York Times author, however, because:

  1. He wanted to credit someone who used the phrase in a technical way: “The credit, it seemed to me, should go to someone who was aware of the computing context.”
  2. He did not feel that the original usage of the phrase fitted the same idea of ‘Big Data’ as his. He therefore concluded the first usage was: “not, I don’t think, a use of the term that suggests an inkling of the technology we call Big Data today.”

Read Barker's original post here.

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