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Archive for September 14th, 2015

Data versus documents

Monday, September 14th, 2015

An overused, over-abused word we have today is “data”. Often people say they “just want to see the data”, but that is almost never what they mean. What they really mean, is “show me the data in a picture arranged just so that I don’t have to read anything to understand it”. That may sound cynical, and I don’t mean it cynically, but that is my experience. Every now and again you’ll get a scientist or someone with a truly scientific bent who really does want to see the data, but they’re not common, and certainly not as might be implied by all of the Church of Data blog posts and manifestos might have you believe. Now, with GIS and geo-writ-large, the connection to data is explicit and apparent, and some are prone to obsess over data, its forms and formats, interfaces for access and frobbing, to the point of distraction. For some, data is the end, it’s their product. But if it really is data, then that’s only a point, or narrow band, on a wide spectrum spanning from data to information to knowledge to wherever that knowledge might take you: insight, action, wisdom, understanding. That’s the point. While the generation of data might put bread on some analyst’s table, it only does so because that data is part of a larger whole. Yes, carefully designed and developed, high-quality, accurate data sets are valuable, but only for what you can do with them. To that end, it’s very important to make it accessible – the lower the barriers to access data enhance the possibilities for its use. If things are locked up in proprietary systems and locked away behind proprietary interfaces, it’s harder to make use of the data and necessarily limiting its utility and value.

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