Kent’s Data and Reality [book pointer]

Let me kick off this blog by pointing to William Kent’s classic book Data and Reality.

Lots of books will teach you how to process data with particular technologies, but Kent’s book goes deeper. He shows in chapter after chapter how database practice fails to match the way humans actually use information.

Data and Reality is almost thirty years old, but the issues haven’t really changed: if anything, they’re much more in our collective faces.

This book may be for you if:

  • you feel strongly that you and your Social Security number (U.S. tax identification) are not the same thing,
  • you wonder whether Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens were the same person for all purposes,
  • you don’t know what to put down for Homer’s year of birth in that author/title cataloguing app you downloaded,
  • you wonder about people who think that something doesn’t exist if it’s not in the expected database (or if it’s not on the Web).

Information philosophy

If these issues sound a lot like the first ten minutes of a college philosophy course, that’s intended. Philosophy is all about seeking answers to questions we don’t often pause to ask.



We run into questions like these all the time in building software, especially now that we’ve woven the Web and woven ourselves and our lives into it.

On Information in Rotation I’m going to call this category “Information Philosophy”; I think it will get woven in with the more orthodox techy blog-fodder as we go along.

Anyhow, I strongly recommend Data and Reality, which is available as print-on-demand or (inexpensive) eBook from the publisher at the link I gave above (as of 2006-12-28).

[The paperback has ISBN 9781585009701 and the eBook 9781420898880. Does this make them different books?]

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