What Does Big Data Look Like? Visualization Is Key for Humans

A simple Google image search on “big data” reveals numerous instances of three dimensional one’s and zero’s, a few explanatory infographics, and even the interface from The Matrix. So what does “big data” look like, within human comprehension?
Ask a CEO of a major company what “big data” is, and they’ll likely describe something akin to a blackbox, the flight recorders on airplanes, or draw a cloud on a whiteboard. Ask a data scientist and you might get an explanation of the 4 V’s, itself an attempt at an infographic (but really just a visual collection of facts) and a corresponding explanation. The reason for this is that “big data” is a nebulous term with different meanings, representations, and uses for different organizations.
Understandably, it’s hard to fathom where to start when there’s so darn much of it. From the beginning of recorded time until 2003, humans had created 5 exabytes (5 billion gigabytes) of data. In 2011, the same amount was created every two days. It’s true that we’ve made leaps and bounds with showing earlier generations of data. However, when it comes to today’s big data, how it looks can help convey information but it needs to be more than just beautiful and superficial. It has to work, show multiple dimensions, and be useful.

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