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Big Data Shall Not Go the Dot-Bust Route

July 1, 2013 No Comments

Featured article by Yves de Montcheuil, Vice President of Marketing, Talend

Do you remember the late 1990s? The so-called “Dot-Com” era?  I do. I was marketing Web testing tools at the time, so you can say I was right in the middle of the heat. It was a thrilling experience, and I learned a lot – about technology, about marketing, and about reality of business.

The thing is, even if you do not remember this era, because you were too young, because you were backpacking in the Amazonian forest, or because you were hiding in a cave, you probably know it did not end well. For many, “Dot-Com” has become synonymous with “Dot-Bust”.

A technology enabled craze

The Dot-Com era was a technology enabled craze. It was a perfect storm – actually, a perfect technology storm. Broadband internet was coming to many homes, powered by optical fiber backbones. 4GL-style Web development tools were so easy to use anyone could become a Web site developer. You could buy “affordable” hardware from your friendly Sun Microsystems reseller or Dell’s website. Brand new data centers just down the freeway were offering super cheap hosting plans. And, more importantly, VCs were pouring millions and millions of dollars into the system. Still miffed from having turned down Amazon and Yahoo when they were still nobodies, VCs were trying very hard to make sure they did not pass on the opportunity to invest in the next great concept, be it “pet store for albino cats with urban owners”, “copies of French antique furniture”, or “custom-picked orchard fruits delivered to your door”.

In the Dot-Com era, pretty much all you had to do to command a sky-high valuation was to add “.com” at the end of your company name. (Actually, there were other conditions: make sure your business plan called for losses for the foreseeable future, and was based on a 1000% customer increase per year).

And the bubble burst

The result: the bubble burst. VCs promptly removed life support. Most of these companies went bust. The lucky ones were acquired for pennies on the dollar. Massive layoffs ensued, not only at Dot-Com companies but also impacting the supporting ecosystem (hardware, telco, data centers, pizza delivery services [with online ordering of course], BMW dealers…).

Dot-Com gave a bad name to eCommerce, which became synonymous with Dot-Bust. But look at today’s eConomy (capitalization on purpose), eCommerce is just part of it.  We are in the eCommerce age, no matter how painful it was to get there.

Another technology-enabled revolution

Fast forward to today. We are living through another technology-enabled revolution (let’s not call it a craze for now). The massive deployment of technologies including online commerce and services, mobile, social networks, sensors, the “Internet of Things” have enabled the creation of massive amounts of data few people even suspected could exist. New platforms such as Hadoop have cut down by several orders of magnitude the cost and difficulty of collecting, storing and processing this data. Hardware has become such a commodity that it’s almost entirely virtualized. The cloud provides immediate and inexpensive access to computing resources, with unlimited elasticity. All you need to gather, process and monetize big data is there, at your fingertips.

Even the capitalistic requirements have dropped by several orders of magnitude. In the Dot-Com era, you needed hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in capital outlay just to build your platform. Today, using open source platforms and cloud, charge $100 to your credit card and you’re in the game. This isn’t to say that the costs of hiring developers and doing marketing have dropped – but it’s much easier to play with concepts and build your “version 0.1”.

The media is watching

Add to this the media frenzy. Don’t even try to setup Google Alerts on “big data” unless you want to see your mailbox flooded. Forbes, The New York Times, Le Monde, The Economist –all are writing about big data. There are high profile use cases: big data cures cancer and fights AIDS, big data predicts natural disasters and epidemics, big data enables big brother to spy on unsuspecting citizens…

There will be blunders. The NSA case is one.  Someday, somehow, a new totalitarian government will use big data to prosecute citizens who disagree with its latest policy. Someday, somehow, a massive data leak will release bank or earning records of millions of citizens. Someday, somehow, a company or an elected official will have to face corruption or embezzlement charges because big data put two and two together. And these blunders will be highly publicized: even when totalitarian governments control the press, social media do step in, as proven in the recent years.

A smoother transition

There is no turning back. We won’t be going back to pre-eCommerce days any more than we will be going back to the pre-industrial age.  And we won’t be going back to pre-big data days. Let’s just hope that we can transition into the big data age more smoothly than we did into the eCommerce age.

Yves de Montcheuil

Yves de Montcheuil is the Vice President of Marketing at Talend, the recognized leader in open source integration. Yves holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science and has 20 years of experience in software product management, product marketing and corporate marketing. He is also a presenter, author, blogger, social media enthusiast, and can be followed on Twitter: @ydemontcheuil.

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