Blog Post

Data without context is dirt

Stay on Top of Enterprise Technology Trends

Get updates impacting your industry from our GigaOm Research Community
Join the Community!

Data, I believe is like plastic. You can use it to make wonderful things. However, like plastic, it can be a great polluter and create havoc on the environment. Or as I like to say, data without context is dirt. Brad Feld captured this dark side of data in his post, Three Magic Numbers.

“Recently, I’ve noticed a cambrian explosion of data among several of the companies I work with. The number of different numbers being tracked daily is massive. When you walk into their office there are screens full of graphs on the wall. Everyone in the company has access to the trends over time across a number of dimensions. These graphs are pretty, the numbers are dynamic, and there are often blinking lights to go along as a bonus.

A few months ago I stood in the middle of the office of a 30 person company and stared at the flat screen TVs hanging from the ceiling showing an array of graphs. I’m sure my mouth was open as I tried to process the data and make sense of it. I knew this particular company well and could reduce the number of different data points to a small set, but I was completely overwhelmed by the visual display. As I systematically looked at each of the graphs, I realized very few of them mattered much, nor where they particularly helpful in understanding what was going on in the business.

At the moment I realized these were no longer magic numbers. Instead, I was looking at wallpaper. Data porn. The entrepreneurial Aeron chair equivalent of 2012. Pretty, but a bad allocation of resources. The 30 people in the room might be looking at the graphs. They might be looking at one of the graphs. But they probably weren’t seeing anything.” [Brad Feld ]

PS: We will be talking a lot about data with/without context at our Structure: Data conference, to be held in New York on March 21-22. (Register for the event.)

2 Responses to “Data without context is dirt”

  1. Tim Piatenko

    Great title! I think the industry as a whole is suffering from this explosion. Everyone is talking about Big Data in the context of capturing more and more data, not filtering and digesting it… Just because you can record something, does not mean you should do it (or keep doing it).
    There are also two sides to this: what you are showing, and who you are showing it to. Not all data has meaning for everyone.
    This is something I’m trying to pay great attention to, as we build out our analytics at Badgeville, and I’m glad other folks are raising this flag as well.

  2. Haven’t we been over this for year:
    Context is organized data
    Learning is the self organization of data

    Putting points(one dimensional data) in a heap doesn’t create data nor context. Or if you have to organize your points by artificial means you have already lost, just ask Jeff.