Data isn’t oil, so what is it?


All these metaphors imagine public data as a huge, passive, untapped resources – lakes of stuff that only has value when it is extracted and processed. But this framing completely removes the individual agency that created the stuff in the first place. Oil is formed by millions of years of compression and chemical transformation of algae and tiny marine animals (sorry, not dinosaurs). Data is created in real time, as we click and swipe around the internet. The metaphor might work in an economic sense, but it fails to describe what data is as a material. It’s not oil, it’s people.