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I'm developing a charting application. There could be a situation where I would have to display large numbers on the chart. The problem is that they number labels have to fit inside the chart columns, which are limited in space and I have only 4 characters to display the numbers.

I am currently using multipliers, so that e.g. 1234567 is displayed as 1.2M. I like this solution, but while K is an acceptable suffix for thousands, there's no such suffix for billions.

What can I do to remedy this? Any good ways of displaying the data?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Some ideas :

  • Are you sure you only have 4 characters to display the numbers? You should think pixels instead of characters. Maybe you can use a 8 pixels police that would make you gain a character.
  • Can't you use a magnifier, a tooltip or something else of that kind?
  • If it is a charter application, I guess numbers are important: if you have only 4 characters to display it the chances are great the interface is not ready.
  • You are probably not going to compare millions with billions or thousands: why don't you name the numbers column adequattly ? For instance: Turn-over in billions
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There is a standard prefix for billions, and that is a G. Anything using a computer user uses the SI metric prifixes, and most people are used to talking about GB (and even TB) already. So I would recommend sticking to the SI metric prefixes.

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The problem with using B or Billion is that the word 'billion' has two meanings depending on the country that you are referring to. These are referred to as long and short scales. In some it is 10^9 while in others it is 10^12, so you are going to cause confusion with a fair amount of people by doing this.

Using 'G' as a 'billion' symbol is at least not ambiguous and people that commonly deal with file sizes or space on a computer are likely to know what it means.


The alternate method which is used in many engineering applications is to either write it as 5.4 x 10^9 or as 5.4E9. This is not something that I would recommend to any non-technical users though.

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'G' can sometimes be ambiguous: it is sometimes used when 'Gi'(2^30) is meant. (Bandwidths are usually Gb/s, memory capacities use GiB but often written as GB, disk capacity seems to use GB.) –  Paul A. Clayton Feb 14 at 0:46

I'd say you have 2 possible solutions.

  1. When in the billions, only use 1 digit, followed by Bn
  2. Use B

I think in the context of money, people will understand what B means, especially if they know they're dealing with large quantities of money.

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