When is data "Big"?

This article from the Harvard Business Review gives this basic prescription for telling a story with Big Data:

  1. Find the compelling narrative
  2. Think about your audience
  3. Be objective and offer balance
  4. Don't Censor
  5. Finally, Edit, Edit, Edit.

This is good advice for the telling of any story, whatever the source, big data or otherwise.  I would like to offer a refinement that may help you in moving forward and making progress, because while it's nice to have an ideal in mind, Plato's pen if you will, getting there is not an abstract exercise and our final destination is often the result of how we characterize the challenge.

"Big Data" is a nice buzz word sufficiently specific as to give structure to a conversation over cocktails yet sufficiently abstract as to allow for anyone's interpretation.  Sean Murphy, of Data Community DC, sees the 'Big' in Big Data as meaning the data has real undeniable impact on people and organization, and that impact is accelerating.  When brought up in conversation 'Big' is often taken literally, as in 'a lot' or 'large amount' of data.  I can't help but think of types of skiing and snowboarding when defining Big Data; If you're a good alpine skiier a harder slope might involve steep, bumpy, cliffs, trees, etc., if you're a snow boarder hard might involve a half-pipe, rails, and big jumps, and if you're a nordic skiier hard might involve tight spaces and quick turns.  In any case the slopes chosen are 'hard' from a certain perspective, even though each person might be an expert in their respective fields.  Big Data can be exactly that, 'Big' from your perspective and what you are trying to accomplish.  Someone who knows how to deal with Petabytes of information might not actually be that good at dealing with Gigabytes of information, the whole Confucius fly with a cannon theme, and if they can't help your business internal operations or external products, then how are they helping you?

Your data is Big because it has real impact, or you know it has the potential to do so.