Some basic principles that will govern everything else that is said:
- Data is part of language
- All communication about data is, itself, data
- Language consists of denoted meaning (denotation) and connoted meaning (connotation) and on top of these is layered implication and inference which involve human perspective
- Nothing about language guarantees communication
- Communication requires a minimum of two entities from the following set [human, machine, logical construct (e.g., software)]
If we are to get a grasp on data quality we have the best chance of success if we restrict our discussion to ONLY that data that is part of communication between machines or between machine and logical construct. Of course this is neither exciting nor even very useful. We have many specifications formats (ethernet, etc.) that guarantee that communication on some level will take place between machines and logicals. ASCII or EBCDIC are the most basic of communication specification. It doesn't take very long for the alert observer to notice that unless a human is involved somewhere in the process, it doesn't really matter what the communication is.
"Matter" implies human involvement or at least we can infer human involvement from a statement that something does or does not matter. Matter is a value judgment couched in an emotional context. It's only when we start to peel back the layers, asking why or in what sense something matters that we begin to get to the idea of quality. Our exploration, then, will follow the trail of what matters.
As we follow this trail we're going to encounter the idea that what matters is, in many ways, distinct to the judge. What matters to the reader of a graphical novel (formerly comic book) may not be the same things that matter to a reader of War and Peace or a viewer of The Mona Lisa. What matters to someone watching Wile E. Coyote fail in yet another attempt at catching the Road Runner is not the same as what matters to someone watching Being John Malkovitch or Inception.
How then do we determine whose perspective to assume? Whose view matters?
The answer of course is that, where communication is concerned, everyone's perspective matters. It would be a great feat of communication if we could present a context-free (perspective-free) discussion of data quality. In fact, it would be such a feat that we're not likely to ever see it and it certainly won't happen here. Our intent is to zero in (or home in but NOT hone in) on a very small number of perspectives to see what matters to them and then step back to see if there are any common themes that can be exploited. If we are successfull in that, we may have created a springboard for the one who comes after.
In the next chapter we will nominate some key perspectives and begin to investigate what matters to them.