“Big data” is kind of a technological catchall. Most simply, it’s a way to describe the crazy amount of data generated these days. Information is churned out in racing streams by everything from social networks to weather balloons: we live in an era of big data. More specifically, “big data” can refer to data sets so immense that we don’t have the tools to mine them—or so robust that we can do fancy new things with them. Campaigns, for example, were able to “micro-target” voters in unprecedented ways this year, while an upcoming version of Microsoft Excel can scan millions of tweets and (poof!) transform them into a chart. Part of the reason “big data” got so much attention in 2012 was, unsurprisingly, that techies were angling to define just what that term means. The meaning will shift as technology continues to advance, but suffice it to say: there’s a lot more data today than there used to be, and that’s a fact rich with obstacles and rewards.
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