On the Nature of the Value of Data

~ By Finn61 ~

Data. It's information in it's raw, unpolished form, and it's everywhere. In the computing sense data is bits and bytes. The entire content of the internet is made of data. In fact, if we exclude the physical transport layer, all we have left of the internet is nothing but data.

When data is arranged in useful combinations it becomes information. Information is valuable but the value is usually relative. Valuable information is usually hard to come by. Information that is freely available and easily obtainable is often less valuable.

I should mention that by value I mean financially valuable, like currency. In a way valuable information could be a form of unofficial currency. The problem is it's value is unstable and all it takes is for a particular piece of information to be freely disseminated for it's value to suddenly and dramatically plummet.

It then follows that to keep certain information valuable it is also necessary to keep it controlled and be able to restrict access to it. This is an artificial barrier imposed by those who desire to profit from the information.

There are other reasons barriers are created around information such as protection or safety for things such as so called dangerous information and even though the mechanisms might be similar or the same, the intent is completely different. It's not to protect the value but to protect people (for either right or wrong reasons).

Now I'm talking about 'information' as a catch all term for data that has been grouped together into something useful. That might be for entertainment such as digital music or video. It could be for reading or viewing such as documents or images.

Computer hackers have traditionally been the champions of free information. An old hacker mantra "Information wants to be free" was used to tout the ideals and philosophy behind exploration and dissemination of information.

But critics pointed out that information does not want to be free because information is merely data and it is not sentient. In itself it has no wants or needs.

Perhaps a more realistic catch cry would be "Information should be free". It espouses the same belief that it is generally beneficial for information to be easily accessible rather than locked away only for the privileged. Of course it looses some of the mystique though. :)

So why is it unnatural for information not to be free, to be locked up? Because the value of information is so easily tipped from possibly high to next to nothing, and because this process is usually irreversible it almost infers a natural affinity towards freedom. Or more accurately, financially valueless. Think of it as a form of entropy.

Of course the information isn't valueless. While it still has meaning it has value, otherwise it would no longer be information and would once more become random data.

An example of all this would be as follows. Imagine I had a recipe for a cocktail that would immunise you against malaria, which I kept secret except to a select few people who were willing to pay me for the privilege. The information is financially valuable, to me and to any of the recipients who may be onselling it without my knowledge.

Usually as more and more people receive the information the value tends to decline. Until someone makes it freely available, such as posting it on the internet and as almost anyone can freely obtain the information it becomes next to worthless from a monetary sense.

From a usefulness view of course the information is still quite valuable. It is saving peoples lives by protecting them from malaria.

So I guess we can say that not only is information in a more natural state when it is freely available but also the fiscal value we place on it is artificial. The true value of information lies in its usefulness and not in it's financial worth.

And yet we are surrounded by people clamouring to lock down information for purely financial reasons. The debacle with music and movie piracy is a prime example and an unwinable battle for the content lockers.

Closed databases on the internet, where you are told you must purchase a key to gain entrance, are other examples. In an information age with tools that were designed to share, publish and disseminate there are many frantically working against the grain by building protections and locks on top of systems that were never designed for hoarding and hiding.

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You are deep inside SixtyOne - (c) Finn61