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Many people come up to me in the street and ask me what Big Data is all about. It has happened to me so many times in the past that I am convinced that it might just happen to you as well. I know sort of thing, I read the Big Data tealeaves. Nothing gets past me.

The first time a complete stranger came up to me in public and said “Hello, will you tell me what this Big Data lark is all about then?” I was lost for words, you just ask my Aunt Dolly, he can vouch for that, no problem. Later that day I read a book – it was my dad’s book – and I then decided to adopt a strategy.

Therefore, in the spirit of springtime goodwill to all men and women, I have put together this blog piece in that hope that it will enlighten, help and entertain.

What is big data?

Big Data can be characterised by the 10 Vs – yes, 10, not 4. Which, in my book, is more than enough to bring up-to-speed the average Big Data John or Jane that one meets on the street, and who naturally wish to be informed of such matters.

In layperson’s terms this a series of landmarks and pointers in the analytics space used to frame and guide the didactic aspects of Big Data.

The fundamental Vs of the Big Data canon are these:

  • Vagueness
  • Volume
  • Variety
  • Virility
  • Velocity
  • Vendible
  • Vaticination
  • Voracity
  • Vanity

So, let me now explain what each of these characteristics mean to those who might know and for those who might want to know.

Vagueness: This is perhaps the trickiest of questions to address, given the vast panorama that is cast before this incredibly complex yet easily graspable concept. But let me state this, and let there be no mistake about it. At this point in time, what makes Big Data vague is also what makes Big Data specific, explicit and certain. That is to say, in order to ‘come to an understanding’ of Big Data, it is necessary to completely embrace the dialectic of knowing the unknowable. So belief is an absolute essential element – belief and data, that is.

Volume – If there ever was a time to “pump up the volume”, we have it here with Big Data.

Big, voluminous, gorgeously rotund and infinite. Big Data is called Big Data because there is a lovely, roly-poly, likeable never-ending load of it. Its volumes can be measured in zeta-bytes, which you can be assured, is a helluva lot of data.

Variety – As they might say down my way, “variety is the spice of life, innit”. This is what makes Big Data so special. So appealing.

Because before Big Data there was absolutely no variety in anything, at all. We lived in a bland world, bereft of detail, nuance and diversity. Nothing could be measured, analysed or explained, because we lacked Big Data. We were ignorant. So ignorant and stupid that we couldn’t see the sense of putting the diapers next to the beer, or of offering three for the price of two.

Fortunately, today this is no longer the case if we don’t want it to be, and thanks to Big Data we have a veritable sensorial explosion. No longer is IT just a couple of symbols scribbled in crayon on someone’s school notebook.

Virility – Move over Smart Data, the new kid on the block is Big Data.

If Big Data were described in the manner of a religious text, it would be accompanied by a never ending narrative of begets.

So, what does that mean?

Simply stated, Big Data creates itself, in and of itself. The more Big Data you have, the more Big Data gets created. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy in 360 degree, high-definition, poly-faceted and all-encompassing knowing. The sort of thing that governments would pay an arm and a leg to get their mitts on.

Velocity – Velocity is of the essence. Velocity kills the competition. More velocity, less haste.

We demand that service is ‘velocious’. ‘Everything’ must be ‘now’, or it’s too late.

This means we need to be able to handle Big Data at velocity – at the speed of need.

Charles Babbage once stated (or maybe it was more than once) that “whenever the work is itself light, it becomes necessary, in order to economize time, to increase the velocity.”

But remember, we are dealing with mega-velocity here, so don’t drink and drive the Big Data Steamship, Star-ship or Mustang.

Vendible – If you can sell it, and sell it as Big Data, then it ‘is’ Big Data. If you can’t, then it’s not. The saleability of Big Data proves its existence.

So, what are the vendible aspects of Big Data?

Let’s leave that easy question for another day. But for now I can confidently state that it is used to mobilise armies of commentators, industry analysts, publicists, punters, writers, bloggers, gurus, futurologists, conference organisers, conference speakers, educators, customer relationship managers, salespeople, marketers and admen.

Vaticination – Edmund Burke is down on record as stating that “you can never plan the future by the past”. Now Burke may have been a clever person when it came to many things, but he wasn’t exactly a whiz when it came to Big Data.

There are people in the world who are in no doubt that Big Data provides the sort of visionary and predictive powers only previously obtainable through ritual sacrifice, magic potions and the casting of spells. Others are highly critical of the understatement implicit in this belief.

For many, Big Data will make the Oracle of Delphi look like a mere call centre.

This is why the power of vaticination plays a characteristically important role in the world of Big Data.

Voracity – This is based on the quasi-rationalist argument that Big Data is big and it has an omnipresent and insatiable self-fulfilling desire.

Big Data comes with an attendant requirement for hardware, even if it is a whole load of consumer hardware tacked together in a magnificent and miraculous mesh of magic.

Big Data can be characterised by voracity, but this comes hand in hand with the ‘ventripotent’ IT industry.

Veracity – The eminence of the data being captured for Big Data handling can vary significantly. The quality or lack of quality of the data naturally has the potential to impact the accuracy of analysis using that data.

Before Big Data arrived on the scene we knew nothing about Data Quality or data verification. This is why ETL and Data Cleansing tools lacked the power to effectively quality check and verify data, to ensure that any erroneous or anomalous data was rejected or flagged.

But now, with the sophistication of tools such as ‘grep’ and ‘awk’ at our disposal, we have the power in our hands to ensure nothing ‘dodgy’ gets into the analytical mix.

Vanity – In my opinion, to fully grasp the underlying and profound meaning of Big Data, it is essential for us to understand the difference between vanity and conceit. Max Counsell claimed that “Vanity is the flatterer of the soul”. Goethe characterised vanity as being “a desire for personal glory”. After an incident with an Anarchist (presumably a Big Data Anarchist), Blackadder remarked to Baldrick that “The criminal’s vanity always makes them make one tiny but fatal mistake. Theirs was to have their entire conspiracy printed and published in plain manuscript”.

That’s all folks!

So that ends the brief rundown of the defining characteristics of Big Data.

So, to summarise. That, which has passed before, necessarily divulges both the upside and downside of Big Data. By reaching out, opening up the kimono and relating the 10 Vs we are disclosing that which cannot be disclosed, exhibiting the absence of essential essence, and thereby opening up the entire field, discipline, profession, science and art to examination, questioning and ridicule.

Many thanks for reading.