This recent Techonomy article from Brooks Bell asks when big data will become profitable. That's not to say that there is no profit in big data, but that many companies are jumping on the data bandwagon expecting immediate results and finding that there's a lot more to it than just collecting data.
Big data is full of exciting prospects - potential uses for data and potential innovations that could be made - but not much can be done if those gathering the data cannot adequately analyze it. Bell compares the situation to a Jorge Luis Borges story called "The Library of Babel" in a particularly astute metaphor:
The universe of the story consists of endless library shelves of similar-looking books, each containing a different, random assortment of letters and punctuation. Within this library, all thoughts and events are recorded—but any insight is hidden between countless volumes of nonsense. The librarians in Borges’ story muddle through, near madness, unable to make use of their vast resource.
Bell also suggests a number reasons for the lack resources in terms of analysis, as well as a solution that is more focused on the way we think about data than on any particular tool or project.
Some companies may be jumping blindly into data collection on a massive scale, and such missteps may just be unavoidable growing pains, but Bell's key point is an important one: Data is only valuable if it can be understood.
Check out the full article for a more detailed analysis of the dilemma and Bell's solution, as well as a number of insights from Nate Silver on the topic of big data.