The word ‘data’ is used regularly across a range of areas – science, technology, politics, film, art or media. Some people see each and every one of us as a collection of data, files upon files of information to be interrogated.
Data terminology is part of our everyday lexicon. With data-related issues seemingly omnipresent in our lives, it’s important that we understand what these data-related terms mean in order for us to make sense of our enmeshed physical-digital landscape.
In this article, Sarah Kante explores the meaning data and some of the associated terms.
It is particularly relevant for us to understand the meaning of some data-terms, as the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Prism are in the news daily.
Prism is a US government code name for their electronic surveillance data-collection programme. Prism collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to tech companies such as Google and Apple to supply the NSA with any data that match court-approved search terms.
Prism was publicly revealed when classified documents about the programme were leaked to journalists from the The Washington Post and The Guardian by Edward Snowden – at the time an NSA contractor – during a visit to Hong Kong. The documents identified several technology companies as participants in the Prism programme, including Microsoft in 2007, Yahoo! in 2008, Google in 2009, Facebook in 2009, Paltalk in 2009, YouTube in 2010, AOL in 2011, Skype in 2011 and Apple in 2012.
A data set is a collection of data. Data is a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables: data are individual facts, statistics or pieces of information, typically the results of measurements.
Big Data includes data sets with sizes beyond the ability of commonly used software tools to capture, curate, manage, and process the data. They typically consist of billions or trillions of records.
In 2012, Gartner (the information technology research and advisory company providing technology related insight) defined Big Data as: “high volume, high velocity, and/or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization.”
The Big Data problem is investigated in multiple ways, including the CSM show at the Lethaby Gallery by MA Textile Futures. Titled ‘Big Data: Designing with the Materials of Life’, the show asks “How can biology help solve critical issues connected to the explosion of data? If a living material can store data, how do we design with it?”
This real time exhibition – open until the 13th February 2014 – investigates how leading research in biology could inform the design of future sustainable materials, products, services and architecture. For the first time at Central Saint Martins, the Lethaby Gallery presents a live project involving MA Textile Futures designers and the Interactive Architecture Lab (GAD RC3) from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL in which the public is invited to witness the secrets of design thinking and making informed by biological sciences.
Data mining is an interdisciplinary field linked to computer science. Its goal is to discover patterns in large data sets and transform them into understandable structures. As a buzzword, it is often misused to mean any form of large-scale data or information processing.
Data mining is about discovery: detecting something new in the data. It is the science of extracting useful information from large data sets or databases.
Underpinning ‘openness’ is a philosophy that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish. This connects to open source, open access, open content, the OER Movement and so forth…
Open data has gained popularity with the launch of open data government initiatives such as data.gov or data.gov.uk.
“The Open Definition sets out principles that define “openness” in relation to data and content. It makes precise the meaning of “open” in the terms “open data” and “open content” and thereby ensures interoperability between different pools of open material. It can be summed up in the statement that: “A piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.” http://opendefinition.org/#sthash.o2xhcrkD.dpuf
According to Wikipedia, metadata is ‘data about data’. It provides information about aspects of the data; it is additional information about the data, or a description of the data. Metadata is information generated as you use digital devices. A digital image’s metadata could include information about its size, the type of equipment used to take it, where it was taken and the resolution.
Metadata is nothing more than data, which placed into context, describes and gives information on data, using the digital image as an example once more, metadata is not the photo itself.
Data visualisation is closely related to information graphics. It is the creation and study of the visual representation of data.
“The main goal of data visualization is to communicate information clearly and effectively through graphical means. It doesn’t mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often fail to achieve a balance between form and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve their main purpose — to communicate information.” Friedman (2008)
The ubiquity of data means that new jobs and job tiles are emerging, such as Data Wranglers.
A Data Wrangler is the person responsible for the conversion or mapping of data from one raw form to another format more convenient for consumption. In the film industry, the data wrangler is employed to manage the transfer of data from a digital film camera to a computer and/or hard drive.
So, as part of our everyday language, data-related terms are important to understand our networked digital world, as well as to make sense of a considerable amount of news and media content that we absorb.
Because data is, more or less, information, it is sometimes easy to forget that it makes up every digital thing we encounter on a day-to-day basis. Relevant for media, science, or art and design practices, data surrounds us. Understanding what it means, as well as the terms derived from it bring a better understanding of our world, digital and analogue.
From NSA surveillance to the Big Data exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery, data is around us but also, ultimately, forms us. Science deals with data, as much as your Facebook profile is made up of it.
With the word data being so pervasive that it has now created new job titles, to be digitally literate it is important that we understand what it means, and how it relates to us, and we relate to it.
References and interesting links:
Big Data: Designing with the Materials of Life exhibition until the 13th February 2014