Friday, July 12, 2013

Big Data, Megatrends and Meta Trends

We use the word megatrend so often today; it’s a trend all of its own, it has passed from neologism, to buzzword, to vernacular. I was however curious in my digging around in what I believe to be the most talked about megatrend today: Big Data, what the commonly understood definitions of mega- and meta-trends would be. I wrote about megatrends a few months back. 

I understand meta as a prefix to be referencing a higher hierarchy, or description of the word it’s affixed too (it also happens to be my sisters nick name – just in case you were wondering).  Meta-linguistics would be the science about linguistics rather than the science of linguistics. Metadata would be a definition or description of data.
Meta trends would be the discussion of trends or a description of a group of trends.  A Google search did not turn up a dictionary definition of meta trend, but I did find one on the Cleveland Carbon Fund site: A meta trend is a global and overarching force that will affect many multidimensional changes; for example, environmental impacts on business, individuals and countries.” Are they confusing meta with mega? 
In contrast a megatrend I understand to be one big and long lasting trend that spurs major societal, cultural, technological, geographical change all at the same time.  German futurist Matthias Horx defines a megatrend as follows. 
A megatrend has a half-life of at least 30 years.
§  It must be apparent in all areas of life: in everyday life, in politics, in culture, in the economy.
§  Megatrends can be observed all over the world, they are a truly global phenomenon.
§  A megatrend can survive setbacks, and its influence may weaken temporarily.
Where megatrends span time and geography and by doing so morph, grow and vanish, meta trends bundle trends and define them as a group.  A megatrend is the universes’ latest star, a meta trend is its orbiting moon.
Big Data might be THE megatrend for some time to come but can it also be a meta trend? 
Big data is a collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications. The challenges include capture, curation, storage, search, sharing, transfer, analysis, and visualization. (see Wikipedia on Big Data). The “big” in Big Data is not necessarily its complexity but its sheer volume and its unending growth. The questions around Big Data that make it such a hot topic are: how do we use and manage Big Data, who gets to use it and how, and who owns it? (see next blog entry).
Metadata, above is defined as the description or definition of data. Meta Big Data is so with the definition or description of Big Data.  And I feel like we’re back to square one.  I would go out on a limb and claim that metadata might be a synonym, or at least in the same semantic environment as Big Data. Big Data might just be the sexier way of talking about metadata and giving a differentiating definition to the data coming out of the digital age. 

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