What is Data?
Data is the most abundant element in this trio because data is everywhere. Data is any raw input without some contextual sense to attach to it. For instance, if someone is speaking, each word is data. However, if you included the environment where they were using the word or the person who was speaking the word, you would be slowly casting yourself into the realm of information. Strictly speaking, it is easier to think of data as a number on a blank page. It doesn’t have a solid context, no do we have a caption or an attribute to tell us what this number means. It is just simply a number without any real value attached. Remember in math class where teachers would deduct points when you didn’t include a dollar sign or a unit of measurement. Your teachers might have even put something like “10 what?” to reinforce this point. If you teachers did this, good for them, it means they actually cared about the structure and organization of information. However, data and information often become fuzzy like when you say 2 inches, but don’t express what object is 2 inches long, wide, or tall. No worries, even the experts cannot make a clear distinction between any of these terms.
What is Information?
When this data becomes more organized and structured, it combines into information. Often data and information overlap primarily because information depends on context, but a strong definition for context is very situational. For instance, a picture can be explained as data because it is an initial raw input. But, if you ask an expert, a picture can have an inferred context. It is almost like metadata, but has some inferred contexts, like a background. Information is more easy to think of if you have ever used a database. Information that is contained in a table’s column has an attribute attached to it. This tells us what that value actually means; however, we still do not know what that implies on a larger context without other values. So, if you had a database with a column that was titled
“Visits”, we might try to assume that is visits to a particular web page, but what web page is it? Who was the visit from? How long did the visit last? These questions are typical question you would ask when you wanted to obtain knowledge from the information you are given. Granted, information and knowledge also overlap, but I think it is a slightly clearer distinction that information and data.
What is Knowledge?
Finally, information flows down into the vast realm of knowledge. The point at which information formulates into knowledge is also a fuzzy boundary. Knowledge is the action or communication of the information in a manner that is actually useful to help make decisions. So, if we had a column “Visits” coupled with other columns like “Page Name”, “Username”, and other descriptive categories that we could use to track user visits to a web page. We can run queries on that information to gain useful knowledge. We could see that 100 different visitors viewed the web page about an hour after it was published, which might mean that our users like new content. This might mean it would be useful to publish more new content to increase the number of users to our website. Knowledge can also be argued to be inaction based on information. It is being argued that wisdom is a derivative of knowledge, but it isn’t widely accepted just yet.