The Real Value of Big Data is Difficult to Measure

by Sabrina I. Pacifici on August 18, 2013

Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud? by James Glanz, August 17, 2013 – See related graphic here.

“If pencil marks on some colossal doorjamb could measure the growth of the Internet, they would probably be tracking the amount of data sloshing through the public network that spans the planet. Christened by the World Economic Forum as “the new oil” and “a new asset class,” these vast loads of data have been likened to transformative innovations like the steam locomotive, electricity grids, steel, air-conditioning and the radio. The astounding rate of growth would make any parent proud. There were 30 billion gigabytes of video, e-mails, Web transactions and business-to-business analytics in 2005. The total is expected to reach more than 20 times that figure in 2013, with off-the-charts increases to follow in the years ahead, according to Cisco, the networking giant. How much data is that? Cisco estimates that in 2012, some two trillion minutes of video alone traversed the Internet every month…What is sometimes referred to as the Internet’s first wave — say, from the 1990s until around 2005 — brought completely new services like e-mail, the Web, online search and eventually broadband. For its next act, the industry has pinned its hopes, and its colossal public relations machine, on the power of Big Data itself to supercharge the economy. There is just one tiny problem: the economy is, at best, in the doldrums and has stayed there during the latest surge in Web traffic. The rate of productivity growth, whose steady rise from the 1970s well into the 2000s has been credited to earlier phases in the computer and Internet revolutions, has actually fallen. The overall economic trends are complex, but an argument could be made that the slowdown began around 2005 — just when Big Data began to make its appearance. Those factors have some economists questioning whether Big Data will ever have the impact of the first Internet wave, let alone the industrial revolutions of past centuries. One theory holds that the Big Data industry is thriving more by cannibalizing existing businesses in the competition for customers than by creating fundamentally new opportunities. In some cases, online companies like Amazon and eBay are fighting among themselves for customers. But in others — here is where the cannibals enter — the companies are eating up traditional advertising, media, music and retailing businesses, said Joel Waldfogel, an economist at the University of Minnesota who has studied the phenomenon…”

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