What is data?

Ocean asks on his blog is data an asset?

Data is certainly not like many other assets, it doesn’t depreciate, you can copy it endlessly, and it’s next to impossible to imagine a commodities market for data. Heck copying the data can either increase it’s value (think “The DaVinchi Code”) or decrease it (think passwords). People don’t pay for data as much as they pay for human attention. You can use data to get attention or you can use attention to collate, assimilate, and otherwise transform raw data into useful information, but either way data needs people to understand and interpret it to become valuable.

So at best:

data + human_understanding == value

Bruce Schenier takes it one step further, calling data the pollution of the the information age.

Data Pollution

SmokestackData sucks up space, time and human attention. But more than that, data can be parsed, manipulated, and transformed to fit various agendas. And in a world where data about all of us is “owned” by various large corporations, from Amazon, to Google, to Enron, it’s not always clear how that data will be used. Besides which millions of credit card numbers are stolen from various companies who store our data “in good faith.” Data costs money in terms of maintenance, in terms of storage, and in terms of liability. Heck, I know people who work for companies who have an e-mail retention policy — which is really more of a mandatory e-mail deletion policy.

Polluted Data

And that assumes that all that data is verifiable true, and that’s definitely not the case. I sold a car once and the new owner didn’t take it to the DMV to get it registered before his friend drove it without a license and got it impounded. And that showed up on my credit report for years. I have a friend who somehow ended up “deceased” even though she’s still very much alive and well.

All of this is to say that as software developers, IT Mangers, and companies in general need to think a lot more about data, and to invest in some better terms for the various different things we call data.

We need to differentiate between raw data, information, and knowledge. We need to help our customers think about the life cycle of the data they want us to capture. We need to educate people about the costs and benefits associated with keeping data, and ultimately we need to follow the mantra:

Think before you store

And if you’re concerned about privacy, and individual liberty, please take a few min and read Bruce’s article.

3 Responses to “What is data?”


  1. what are the other meaning of data?

  2. what is data processing?

  3. what are the different categories of data processing?

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