Small Data: Those big numbers keep on coming

Psy dancing to Gangnam Style Image copyright Getty Images

When I warned last month that we would soon report our first quintillion I didn't expect it to happen so soon, writes Anthony Reuben.

But last week, we used what I believe to be the BBC News website's biggest number: 9,223,372,036,854,775,808, that's 9.2 quintillion.

That is the number of times that YouTube users could watch Psy's Gangnam Style (or any other video) without causing problems for its updated counter software.

Coincidentally, it is also the number of times I feel like I have been forced to listen to it due to my children's enthusiasm for the song since it was released in 2012.

The previous limit for views was 2,147,483,647, a little over two billion, which the video has now passed.

For the record (and because a colleague asked me to work it out last week) it would take more than 17,000 years to watch the four minute 12 second video up to the old limit, and 74 trillion years to watch it to the new limit - so I think YouTube is unlikely to have to worry about this problem again for a while.

My warning about quintillions came in a piece that mentioned the story in which the website used its first quadrillion.

The issue was that while we can use tn as an abbreviation for trillion, we cannot use qn for quadrillion because then what would we use for quintillion?

Thanks to @DevineCaesar who suggested on Twitter that we should go with qdn for quadrillion and qtn for quintillion and also to @RichardFPenn who said that if we were talking about vast amounts of money it was time to start using units such as megapounds, gigapounds and terapounds.

Now, how long will it be before we report our first sextillion, which is one with 21 zeros after it?

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