What makes big data, big data? Exploring the ontological characteristics of 26 datasets


Kitchin, Rob and McArdle, Gavin (2016) What makes big data, big data? Exploring the ontological characteristics of 26 datasets. Big Data and Society, 3 (1). pp. 1-10. ISSN 2053-9517

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Abstract

Big Data has been variously defined in the literature. In the main, definitions suggest that Big Data possess a suite of key traits: volume, velocity and variety (the 3Vs), but also exhaustivity, resolution, indexicality, relationality, extensionality and scalability. However, these definitions lack ontological clarity, with the term acting as an amorphous, catch-all label for a wide selection of data. In this paper, we consider the question ‘what makes Big Data, Big Data?’, applying Kitchin’s taxonomy of seven Big Data traits to 26 datasets drawn from seven domains, each of which is considered in the literature to constitute Big Data. The results demonstrate that only a handful of datasets possess all seven traits, and some do not possess either volume and/or variety. Instead, there are multiple forms of Big Data. Our analysis reveals that the key definitional boundary markers are the traits of velocity and exhaustivity. We contend that Big Data as an analytical category needs to be unpacked, with the genus of Big Data further delineated and its various species identified. It is only through such ontological work that we will gain conceptual clarity about what constitutes Big Data, formulate how best to make sense of it, and identify how it might be best used to make sense of the world.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2016 This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (http://www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/) which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (https://us.sagepub.com/en-us/nam/open-access-at-sage).
Keywords: Big Data; ontology; taxonomy; types; characteristics; studies;
Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Geography
Faculty of Social Sciences > Research Institutes > National Institute for Regional and Spatial analysis, NIRSA
Item ID: 7278
Identification Number: 10.1177/2053951716631130
Depositing User: Prof. Rob Kitchin
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2016 09:57
Journal or Publication Title: Big Data and Society
Publisher: SAGE Publications
Refereed: Yes
Funders: European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award
URI:

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