It’s big, but is it clever?

I’m in Silicon Valley for a month. The Dictionary of Words of the Moment is alive and well, and no table can be passed in a Palo Alto restaurant without hearing the words cloud, social, virtualisation or big data.

In terms of Silicon Valley speak, cloud is now so much a given that it conveys no information, and is thus almost a little passé. Although Hollywood has made a film about social media, while it might still be important, mentioning it at Valley parties does not get you on the cool list.

In fact, I must admit to being a little concerned with The Social Network movie. Yes, I remember those days of lunatic youth when we thought nothing of staying up all night coding, but somehow I have forgotten the fact that there were also beautiful women draped over the sofas while we were doing it...

Funny how time plays tricks on memory — I’m so glad the filmmakers paid attention to those details.

To be cool at the Valley party these days, you have to talk about big data. The problem is, no one can quite tell you what exactly that is. It’s not data warehousing or Business Intelligence — because that is so boring.

In-memory databases come up a lot and are often ascribed magical properties, however all I can seem to learn about this is they are faster due to the avoidance of going to disk. One can get the same answers for unexpected unoptimised queries as one could for boring databases, but quicker.

So just as dumb, but quick dumb. But they are usually mentioned by software marketing people with a twinkle in the eye and an implication that somehow you will also get better answers, but no one can explain why.

So, to be cool and feature in the next Silicon Valley movie, try knocking ’em dead with the following big data gambits: NoSQL and Hadoop.

For those of you that wish to casually toss this word in, Wikipedia will tell you Hadoop is a data-intensive framework that works with thousands of nodes and petabytes. It was originally developed to support distribution for Nutch. If you are no wiser at that point, then bluff.

While Hadoop and NoSQL have perfectly respectable academic, dev and nerd communities behind them, you don’t have to look far to see what happens when marketing departments get their hands on the big data idea.

In university computer departments, some of those researching big data started using the term unstructured data to refer to traditional database-type matching operations performed over what are, in effect, messy databases.

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