Chicken or the Egg: Information is Data or Data is Information?


Dream your dream home The word data is the Latin plural of datum, neuter past participle of dare, "to give", hence "something given". In discussions of problems in geometry, mathematics, engineering, and so on, the terms givens and data are used interchangeably. Such usage is the origin of data as a concept in computer science: data are numbers, words, images, etc., accepted as they stand.

The particular interesting evolution in data has been the advent of images being allowed to stand toe-to-toe with the more traditional quantifiable data (i.e., measurements). In the past images had been lucky to be classified merely as information, but does this mean that information is more important than data? Or had data changed, and in this digital age the fine line between data and information is blurred?

In data’s defense, numbers can say a lot and are still very powerful. Here at Onboard Informatics we definitely have everything necessary to “paint by numbers.” I can visualize a 3 bedroom home that is 1500 square feet, on a half acre plot thanks to our home sales data. I can further my visualization of this home when I delve into our neighborhood demographics data, but still I cannot determine the color, the style, the type of materials used, and what the lot looks like.

I want you to reach into your pocket, your purse, or for you very select few, your European carry-all… Does your cell phone have a camera on it? Chances are, yes it has a digital camera with the capacity to send any photos it takes to another person. Well this allows any one person at any time to capture images that can be used as means of reference. Admittedly, my cell phone camera has images that really don’t have much value to anyone else, but what about the home buyer trying to communicate his/her needs to real estate agent. Our home buyers can simply communicate his/her dream home by simply sending digital snap shots of homes or features of homes that he/she is looking for. To the real estate agent, this information is data… Without the proper visual data to assist the agent, all the demographical break downs of a neighborhood will not put the buyers in the right home…

So no, information is not more important than data but nor is it less important… It is loved equally but just different. Speaking to the second question, the fine line is absolutely blurred. The digital age, has allowed us to see what we want and show that to others at any given moment in time… This means real estate agents should not have to battle the vagueness of buyers’ verbal descriptions, and truly place them in their dream home…

Image Credit: Ruben Alexander on