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The Computer Studies teacher quipped, "There is a lot of data out there regarding HTML programming".

What does this really mean? Will it make any difference if the teacher had used "information" in place of "data"?

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8 Answers

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I would actually suggest that in this particular case, he probably should have used information rather than data.

Data is typically used when you're referring to "raw information", e.g. metrics that have been collected, but without any sort of analysis.

Since in this case, he presumably means references or guides to HTML programming rather than, e.g., studies on the effect of HTML programming on the economy where data has been collected on the actual programming of HTML, I'm not sure what sorts of things would qualify as 'data'.

Perhaps tables of information in reference form or some such could be considered data, but I'm not sure why he'd limit his quip to just that sort of information.

More likely to my mind is that as a CS professor, he frequently deals with actual data and the frequent usage biases his word choice in cases like this.

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It depends on the context. Typically-speaking, information would have been the correct term, as you are referring to general bodies of knowledge on a subject. Data, on the other hand, typically refers to specific and isolated facts on a subject.

You'd find information on how to program in HTML, but data on how many people have jobs where they program using HTML.

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I would also add that data is often used when referring to numerical values. Perhaps that's the scientific side of me that feels that way, but I cannot remember data being used for any type of textual or literal results. It almost always seems to refer to the contents of charts, graphs, tables, etc., and those generally contain measurable amounts. –  Will Jan 26 '11 at 23:22
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Information could be considered more appropriate. Data can refer to the results of scientific experiments, or, especially nowadays, information stored digitally.

For the latter reason, data could be considered fine for your example, because there is a lot data (i.e. information stored digitally, e.g. online) regarding HTML programming, itself a 'digital' subject.

If he was talking about, say, how to cook chicken, it would sound a bit wrong:

There is a lot of data out there about how to roast a chicken.

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If the teacher had said "information", it would imply confidence in the usefulness and correctness of the material to be found. By saying "data", there is the implication that much of the material may not be all that good, and possibly that it isn't easy to tell the difference.

Information = Data - Noise

Or perhaps I'm reading too much into what might be a casual remark by someone who uses the word "data" more often than many speakers.

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+1 for the data-noise. Perhaps reading too much into the remark, but a good point to make. We're surrounded by data all the time, but most of it really is noise, or at least not pertinent to us. –  Will Jan 26 '11 at 23:17
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Data in my mind is statistical in nature, information can be conversational.

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"Information," in my opinion, is a term that lends itself to being more "digestible" than the term "data."

In other words, I would say that the sentence should have been "There is a lot of information out there regarding HTML." Data can be considered more "raw."

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Information is usually the set of things that can be known about a subject or concept (except when it is used in the precise technical sense in physics where it is associated with the amount of order there is in a system).

Data (plural of Datum) originally meant a set of measurements about something.

So the correct answer is "information" - although there has been some blurring of meaning over the years. For instance - most "Data Sheet"s should probably be "Information Sheet"s :) The name originally came from the documentation of the actual, measured performance of a component (thus data).

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The statement doesn't present data or information about HTML programming, but is about that data or information, so a reasonable interpretation is possible for either concept. I like “data are facts, information is data in a context”. So the statement as is could mean there are lots of facts available, e.g. size of that job market, effectiveness of that programming language, etc. If 'information' were used instead, I would interpret that to mean I should be able to achieve some purpose – most likely to learn how to write in HTML, but also perhaps to understand why it exists, how it differs from other languages and so on.

Being that the speaker was a computer studies specialist, it's also conceivable s/he was being humorous (or nostalgic). Long ago, computers were called data processors.

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