Numbers are everywhere. They tell us how long will it take us to get to the desired destination, indicate the number of times we have to visit the gym to stay in shape and suggest the data analytics solutions that help drive more business.
In the world that not only heavily relies on numbers, but lives and breathes them, it’s crucial to know answers to the questions like “what is data”, “what is information”, and “what is the difference between data and information”.
Let’s dive in.
What is Data?
We hear the words data and information so often and so interchangeably, that it’s easy to assume they have the same or a similar meaning. They don’t.
So what is data, you’ll ask.
Data is a raw, unorganized fact. It is a simple statement without any inherent meaning.
The word data came from Latin datum, which means “(thing) given”. Data is any observation, event, fact, perception, symbol, number, characters, or image that you would like to give, or what we nowadays call share with the others.
Data can be displayed in a form that is understandable by both parties, like a certain language, or can be enigmatic as presented in the “Voynich Manuscript” which is considered the most mysterious book on the planet Earth and has never been undeciphered. Any set of facts is considered to be data regardless of our ability to understand it.
What is Information?
To deeply understand the information vs data comparison, let’s look at what information actually is. The word information has many beginning, among which the most notable comes, once again, from Latin.
Its original form comes from the verb informare, which means “to give form to the mind”, to instruct, to teach or to discipline. In a large context informare is the process of giving form, or forming an idea of something.
So what is information in the nowadays terms, you’d ask.
Information is data that has been processed, organized or structured and conveys meaning. If a set of symbols conveys meaning we can find useful we call it information.
Difference Between Data and Information
As you’ve already concluded from the previous sections, data and information are quite different. Data is a raw set of symbols without any inherent connotation, message or significance, while information is the meaning we create from the data we receive.
For example, there are 536 students in the Suskutchevan Private School of St. Sabellius. 234 of the students are boys, and 302 are girls.
By looking at these numbers we can conclude Suskutchevan Private School of St. Sabellius is not a male seminary or institute for noble maidens, since it consists of an almost equal amount of male and female pupils, which is unusual for any all-male or all-female educational institution.
Data: there are 536 students: 234 boys and 302 girls in the Suskutchevan Private School of St. Sabellius.
Information: Suskutchevan Private School of St. Sabellius is a co-educational institution.
Data vs Information Comparison
As you can see from our example above, data is a statement of fact, while information is an interpretation we subtract from that data. Data is a set of characters, which may or may not be turned into information, and therefore can be useful or useless depending on your ability to interpret this data.
Information, on the other hand, is by definition meaningful. It is to get information on how users behave, interact with and react to their product companies pay millions and millions of dollars annually. And in this light, the famous “data is the new oil” expression becomes quite misleading, as data without the right comprehension is quite meaningless. It’s the information that’s valuable.
Wikipedia calls information the “resolution of uncertainty”, as it can answer questions like “what is happening”, or “why”. Data only states “what is”.
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Although as you see from our examples data and information are quite different, they can’t exist within one another. Data is often fruitless without having the means of decoding it, and information is based on data, and can not exist without it.
Find out more on data and information in our following articles: