How many is a billion?

By | 12th July 2011

How many is a billion? Everyone knows the answer.

Or do they? Does it actually matter?

The official answer is that what we in England used to know as a billion has been downgraded. Is this just another example of Governments massaging statistics? I suppose it matters if you are trying to make something look bigger than it actually is. If I am a billionaire, I want to be worth a million million. But I am not, so do I care that I am these days only worth a thousand million?

Likewise with a trillion which has undergone an even more extensive cut. What used to be a million, million, million million is now only a million, million.

We are obsessed these days with the “how many?” question. How many friends have you got on Facebook? How many followers on Twitter? How many connections on LinkedIn?

This all reminds me of the schoolboy jape which begins with the question, “How many monkeys in a hammerfor?”  If you are smart, you soon learn not to ask, “What’s a hammerfor?” as it invites the response, “to hit you on the head with!” accompanied by a hammer-like fist being brought down upon your head to illustrate the point.

Never fear, though, when it comes to litigation support, because help is at hand.

As a result of LinkedIn and Twitter (almost inevitably these days) I have been made aware by Chris Dale of a set of statistics useful to anyone who has to advise a client about the cost of e-disclosure.

Those of you familiar with this blog will know that I deprecate the fact that we in England and Wales have to use the phrase e-disclosure these days when everyone else in the common law world uses the description e-discovery, as we used to do before 1999.

So, I am always pleased to include a reference to an article which talks about e-discovery because all then seems right with the world and after all no one has yet explained to me satisfactorily or at all what the difference is between the two.

John Tredinnick, litigation partner at Mountain West and DC law firm Holland & Hart and founder of e-discovery search blog Catalyst, explains simply what may be involved when litigation support people talk about gigabytes of data. It is not, of course, an exact science because, for obvious reasons, the answer depends on the type of document and its size. 

The short article is well worth a read  [“Shedding light on an E-Discovery mystery: how many documents in a Gigabyte?” John Tredinnick, Catalyst blog, 7th July, 2011] and, for the record, the median answer is around 2,300, considerably fewer than the often cited “industry standard” of 10,000.

Now, how many tweets have I received today? That is the serious stuff!!

Photo credit:  Male proboscis monkey, Singapore Zoo by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen (creative commons licence)