This is a topic that has interested me since I started studying computer science and I’m sure it has been the subject of many discussions. In the past, I’ve always tried to explain it in my own words, which was likely not very accurate, but I just recently came across an article that sums it up very nicely.
The article explains the difference between data, information, and knowledge. It also goes into some detail about how these three things relate to each other.
Data is defined as raw facts and figures. An example would be a list of phone numbers by themselves. This data in itself is pretty much meaningless.
Information is defined as data that has been processed in such a way that it has meaning. The above example would now be a list of phone numbers with names behind them, making it much more meaningful.
Knowledge is defined as the ability to use information to achieve a specific goal or outcome. Using the above example, you would have knowledge if you knew what phone number to call to reach someone you needed to talk with (e.g., your doctor). Note that this definition makes knowledge quite subjective; what constitutes knowledge for one person may be information for another person.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about data is that it has no meaning on its own. It can be used to create information, but it is not information itself.
Information takes data and makes it meaningful. For example, “1” means something different in the context of “1 meter” than it does in the context of “1 kilogram.” When you add context to data, you turn it into information. Of course, this does not even begin to scratch the surface of what information really means. In a world where data is abundant and continues to grow, how do you make sense of all of it? How do you create knowledge?
In a blog post for Harvard Business Review titled “The Three Kinds of Knowledge,” author David Weinberger defines knowledge as “the human understanding of things.” He goes on to explain that knowledge is not static. It changes as we change. It changes as the world changes. And while we can use information to create knowledge, there will always be gaps between what we know and what we don’t know.
In an interview with HBR editor Sarah Green Carmichael, Weinberger expands on his thoughts regarding the difference between data, information and knowledge:
In our everyday lives we all use the words data, information and knowledge. The media talks about a “knowledge economy” and Google wants to “organize all the world’s information”. But what do these words really mean and how can we define them? Some definitions that have been used include:
Data is a collection of facts, such as numbers, words, measurements, observations or even just descriptions of things. Data can be recorded in many different ways including letters (like the word “cat”), numbers (like “1,2,3”) or even pictures (like a photograph). Data is raw material from which information is derived.
Information can be defined as data that has been processed in such a way as to be meaningful to the recipient. For example if you record someone’s age on a database it is just a number but if you were then to calculate what percentage of your clients are over 65 years old then this would be useful information because it would tell you something about your clients. Knowledge is information that has been organized and explained so that it is useful to someone who needs it to complete a task or make a decision. For example if you are going shopping you may want to find
Data, information and knowledge are often used interchangeably. Yet, the difference between data, information and knowledge is critical to understanding the role of information management in business and life.
Data refers to a collection of facts from which conclusions may be drawn. A census is an example of data. It provides a list of facts about people: age, sex, education level and so on from which you could draw conclusions about population trends.
Information is data that has been processed into a form that is meaningful to the recipient and is of real or perceived value in current or prospective actions or decisions. If you have several pieces of data about someone (for example, name, age and address), this constitutes information.
Information requires context to be useful. For example, knowing the number of widgets we sold last year provides useful information only if we know how many we planned to sell or how many our competitors sold. The more context provided, the more useful the information will be in decision making. In practice it’s often impossible to provide all relevant context because it’s constantly changing (see below). This means that every piece of information is likely to be imperfect in some way.
Information can also mean being “in the know”. This comes from having
The difference between data and information is the difference between a pile of rocks and a pile of bricks. Data are just facts and figures, whereas information is data that have been processed in such a way as to be meaningful and useful to people who receive it.
Data are meaningless unless they can be presented in a form that has relevance to those who use them. A pile of bricks, for example, does not become information until it becomes the wall of a house we want to live in.
A pile of rocks, on the other hand, is simply a pile of rocks until someone sees its potential as a wall and puts them together! Only then does the data become information. And now that it is part of something useful, we can say that the data has value.
The information age has made possible the production and consumption of data and information at an unprecedented rate. Whereas in the past it would have taken a year or more to generate a report based on data, now it can be done in seconds. But the fact that we have access to so much information does not mean that we know more.
What is Data?
Data is raw unprocessed facts and figures. It comes in many forms. At its simplest, it could be some numbers recorded on a piece of paper, or it could be a reading from a measuring instrument such as a thermometer or barometer. But nowadays data is typically stored electronically and may be collected automatically by electronic devices.
The term data is often used incorrectly to mean information (see below), but strictly speaking, Information cannot exist until the data has been processed and organized in such a way that makes it meaningful and useful to someone. For example, if you were to take the temperature every hour over the course of one week and write down each reading, you would have created raw data which has no value whatsoever for anyone else until you process it into some kind of information which does have value (for example by calculating the weekly average temperature).
Data is the raw input that is fed into the computer. It may be in a variety of formats, for example, alphabetic characters, numerals or special characters. Data can be input from a variety of devices such as a keyboard, microphone or touch screen.
Information is data that has been processed in some way and given meaning. For example, a word processor takes data from a keyboard and processes it by filtering out all unwanted characters (spaces, punctuation etc). It then arranges the data as words and lines on the screen to form text.
Knowledge is information that has been used to create something new. For example, to write an essay you have to gain knowledge of the subject.