WHAT IS DATA???
BUZZ-WORDS AND ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
Life is busy, especially for those who are in constant search of taking in as much of the world around them as possible during their waking hours. This is how I live my life. The search for knowledge and understanding energizes me. It sounds like a fabulous way to live, but I feel that I miss out on so much each day because the world is in constant motion. I can’t stop to smell the flowers, or the nerdy side of me complains that I just can’t take the time to research every new buzz-word that comes along. If you are like me you’ve heard some of the buzz-words, technology, innovation, digital, humanities, data, metadata, crowdsourcing, etc. These words are always at the forefront in today’s conversations. If you actually take the time and step back and dissect the word and hone in on your personal understanding of the definition of the word — is that the true definition of it as society defines it and your colleagues understand it to be? Are you on the same page as the very individual people you are working on a team with? You might be or you might not even be close. This crazy line of thinking is where I currently find myself today. I have enrolled in a Research Methods class. In order to conduct research efficiently, accurately, and appropriately I need to understand the tools that are available to me. Today’s buzz-words that I seek to understand are Data and Metadata. I am not so very certain that I have the correct internal definition of and understanding of “Data” or “Metadata.” Please bear with me as I try to communicate my current understanding of these two words. I welcome your comments throughout my post, especially if you can help to shine additional light upon my search to understand what data and metadata are.
Data in its most granular existence is made up of small, little component(s) of information. These little bits of information are structured in a way that they start to have “recognizable structure and are given some meaning.” (p. 2) There are different levels of structure the data can be placed into, as C. Schoch mentions in his paper, such as structured, semi-structured (exp. XML filest), and unstructured (exp. Plain Text). Structured data is organized data. It has specific criteria that can be used for research. Unstructured data has no restrictions. Both have their pros and cons. Structured data is limited because it is what it states it is — STRUCTURED.
Unstructured data comes in a very raw format. It has no structure. It is open to interpretation and can be harnessed in innovative formats if the interested parties wish to structure it and use the best tools currently available for their identified outcomes.
Metadata is data that provides data about the data. For example, an image is data. Metadata might provide the size of the image, file size, origin, copyright, etc. It helps to provide relevant information regarding the data to serve as an additional resource.
This leads me to a very important question, “who owns the data?” The owner of the data has their own agenda and the data may be manipulated or organized to serve their personal agenda or interests. It may not have the criteria extracted from it that you need. The data may be relevant to research and only through membership or a private elite group can the data be accessed. The data might be shared through an open source media. The data may have been derived from a person’s genetics and the individual may not have given consent for it to be used in the data set. This question or data ownership in some instances has been answered but it is very unclear when it comes to having data derived from the internet. The World Wide Web is free, so really who owns the data? Does Twitter own your data or do the ones posting the tweets own the data? Twitter “says it makes it clear in its terms of services that users own their content.” (http://www.cnbc.com/id/48817077#.) Then why, in the CNN Media Money article on Aug 28, 2012, did a New York Supreme Court state that Twitter owned the content? This is not a simple question sometimes to answer of who owns certain data. It is still being debated today even though it seems as if it is very clearly stated in the terms and conditions Twitter users agree to when they sign up for a Twitter account. I do not have a legal answer to this question. I am not a legal expert. I will, however, continue to seriously think about the data I personally impact through my personal choices and my research choices to help me make better informed decisions of where my data is going, how it might be used and where I am obtaining my data for my research. It is always important to try to identify who owns the data you are impacting and using so that you can make better informed decisions about data and its usage.
WHAT COUNTS AS DATA?
In conclusion, I believe personally data is in the eye of the beholder. It is what is important to the person, problem being solved, trends being analyzed and discovered, etc. “Data is not given, but is always manufactured and created.” (p. 3) Trever Owens defined it succinctly. It is the tool/means in which we use bits of information to help us structure inquiry and exploration that is relevant to our personal/collective goals.