Pointless data

Today I’d like to talk about how nearly all of the commentators on the data scene at the moment are completely missing the point.

Fighting talk, eh? I think it’s accurate through. There are huge circular discussions going on about whether something is big data or open data; whether it’s open data or personal data; whether it’s public if it’s personal, whether it’s still open if it’s big, whether it’s still big if it’s personal. And so on and so forth at length across all possible media channels. Then there are the providers of data services circling to offer tools and stores and platforms and all manner of technical assistance. Some of those offerings are quite good, too, but still …

I say it doesn’t matter whether it’s open or big – or both – if it’s unusable for any practical purpose. It’s not enough to have the data, there has to be something more.

Interesting fact; I was taught that data is the plural of datum, Latin for “that which is given”. Since then I’ve always thought of data as something which asks a question, not answers it. Given this data, what can you make of it? What does it tell you? Given this, then what?

Data has a point; it’s to help people understand the reality the data represents so they can make decisions about how to affect that reality. Once we worry exclusively about managing the data, we forget that we’re supposed to be managing the reality. We start drawing dragons in the white spaces on the map, basically, because we don’t know what’s really there and we’d like to hope there are really dragons*.

But here’s the real point; people who have more information make better-informed decisions. Not necessarily better decisions, because we are human after all, but they decide based on more evidence about what the options are and what those options mean.

  • or maybe that’s just me …
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