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July 10, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:37am

13 ways to explain big data to a five-year-old

The definitive definition of big data from the experts for the kids (and adults, too).

By Amy-Jo Crowley

Jonathan Birch, Head of Architecture at NTT DATA

"Imagine trying to finish the last page of your colouring book, but suddenly you find that you’ve got more crayons than you know what to do with. You want to use them all, but you know that if you do, you won’t be able to stay inside the lines! So, someone needs to help you manage your choices to ensure you only use the crayons you need – probably your mum or dad!"

Laurie Miles, head of Analytics at SAS UK & Ireland

"Imagine a giant toy box, filled to the brim with lego bricks, duplo blocks and your favourite characters. Sounds exciting right? You could build all sorts of things, castles, forts, fire engines and even pirate ships. But with a box as big as you are and thousands of bricks all jumbled up it could be pretty difficult to find the right pieces.

"Big data is a lot like that toy box. A big jumble of numbers and words. This makes it very difficult to read and understand without lots of help.

"Say you wanted to build a fire engine. You would need some red bricks, a fireman model, wheels and the ladder for the fire engine. In that jumbled up box it would take you all day to find those bricks. It’s the same when it comes to big data. There is a lot of useful information in those huge data sets but finding it can be difficult."

Andrew Jennings, chief analytics officer at FICO

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"Data is just another word for little bits of ideas. Imagine millions of these little bits of ideas, like stars up in the sky. When you look up at the stars, you see a bunch of tiny lights. But you can also imagine shapes: a warrior over here, a big spoon over there.

"The warrior is an idea, and the stars are data that make up that idea. Now, when people talk about big data, they’re talking about not just the stars you and I can see when we look up, but all the zillions of other stars out there that we might only be able to see through a big telescope. Just imagine what kinds of shapes you could see if you could look at all the stars in the universe. What would that look like?"

Matt Davies, product marketing director at Splunk

"Think of all the books, all the TV programs, all the music, pictures, all the things ever written down and all the drawings ever done available for you to look at and watch whenever you want.

"You’d never have to ask mummy or daddy a question and them say "I don’t know" because they’d be able to find out pretty much anything.

"Imagine being able to ask any question you can think of and being able to get an answer whenever you need it, for example you’d be able to find out anything, ever about Frozen.

"You’d be able to find out every game of Angry Birds ever played, what the score was and how many pigs were squashed.

"You would be able to find out every journey Thomas the Tank Engine has ever taken, who he spoke to and other trains who helped him on his adventures, how they helped, how much coal they used and who was in the train carriages."

David Gibson, VP at Varonis

"Think about data like books on a bookshelf. You can probably count and sort the books on your bookshelf at home in just a few minutes, all by yourself. But if someone asked you to count all the books at the library, it would take you years to finish!

"Or, if someone asked you to find the most common things that make all the characters in all your books feel happy or sad, that would take a long, long time. Just like books in a library, data on computers can grow so big and contain so many interesting facts that it becomes hard to count and sort and make good use of."

Andy Fuller, head of Data Analytics at Fujitsu UK & Ireland

"What if you could remember all of the jokes ever told by anyone and always knew the best one to tell?… That’s what big data can do…Imagine an amazing machine that watched all of the television happening in the world all the time and then helped you to watch only the really good programmes that you like, whenever you want… That’s what big data can do…"




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