Last night, at that point where I really should have just turned off my computer and gone and done something else instead, I stumbled across a presentation by Karen Fewell on the subject of #foodporn and the impact it is having on the hospitality industry.

I found the content absolutely fascinating – well presented data about how social networks are being used by people to share experiences of food and eating. And by the end of it I had no idea whether I’d learned anything or not – had it been insightful or just data?

The experience has crystallised a few threads going about in my head recently: the seeming loss of distinction in recent years between the ideas of data as distinct from information; how data is becoming all important; the strange term “unstructured” data that has arisen in the wake of Big Data (all data in digital form has some sort of structure – what people generally mean is unclassified data).

Karen’s presentation has made me realise that no matter how well visualised the data is, in a context in which I have no other knowledge data remains just data. Curious, fascinating even. But nothing of insight. To her intended audience, however, the data becomes information of great insight and value – their knowledge, not the presentation of the data, makes that transition happen.

In our infographic-obsessed world, it’s easy for organisations to think that smart data visualisation alone will give them insight. Without knowledgeable interpretation, that’s a dangerous assumption.

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