The Biggest Year in Big Data

So when did Big Data become mainstream?

Was it in June 2013 when Edward Snowden released classified information from the United States National Security Agency?

Or was it around the time that the retail store Target worked out a way to determine the likely pregnancy status of its customers?

Or was it in 1991?

In a recent The Atlantic article on the impact of Shazam, the following was observed:

Take the Billboard Hot 100, which has counted down the top songs in America since 1958. For decades, Billboard had to rely on record-store owners and radio stations to report the most-bought and most-played songs. Both parties lied, often because labels nudged or bribed them to plug certain records, or because store owners didn’t want to promote albums they no longer had in stock. The entire industry was biased toward churn: labels and stores wanted songs to enter and exit the charts quickly so they could keep selling new hits.

Data was available but it was biased, self selected … and to be honest … close to useless (despite the fact of the near religious reliance we placed on the pre 1991 Billboard charts).

And then in 1991 something happened:

Billboard replaced its honor system with hard numbers in 1991, basing its charts on point-of-sale data from cash registers. “This was revolutionary,” says Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s current director of charts. “We were finally able to see which records were actually selling.” Around the same time, Billboard switched to monitoring radio airplay through Nielsen.

When that happened, hip-hop and country surged in the rankings and old-fashioned rock slowly began to fade—suggesting that perhaps an industry dominated by white guys on the coasts hadn’t paid enough attention to the music interests of urban minorities and southern whites.

Too often marketers will tell you that that most overused phrase – big data – is the newest thing.

Advancements in data analytics will continue as is to be expected. They are, however, not the product of a new phenomenon.

The 1991 Billboard example is evidence of that.

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