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Data is not the new oil. Data > Oil

“The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data” says The Economist

“Data is the new oil”, said Clive Humby and many others [*update: or “new water”, “new electricity” etc… ugh]

Some people have described why it is and that it’ll be a new currency.

2014 Wired said it was and that “data infrastructure should become a profit centre”

In 2012 Forbes asked “Is Data The New Oil?”, saying “Data is just like crude. It’s valuable, but if unrefined it cannot really be used. It has to be changed into gas, plastic, chemicals…”

And, while it’s easy to run with these kinds of comparisons, they are shallow.


They miss at least three critical attributes.

  1. Data doesn’t run out — data can be for everyone

  2. You can make a copy of the data for (effectively) zero cost

  3. Data increases in value the more it is connected

The economic model for a commodity that doesn’t run out is more like solar power than oil.

The value of data is not based on scarcity (even if you think it currently is, it wont be).

The economic model for a commodity that increases in volume and value the more it is connected is, well, more like the web. It might be more accurate to say that the ‘web of data’ is the new ‘web of documents’. Extrapolating… the value of data is greater than the value of oil.

Oh, and since I’m a climate geek, setting aside the carbon footprint of the internet (which is big), data doesn’t cause catastrophic climate change in the same way that oil does. Although, we may soon need data sequestration for all our binary dust.

And, lest we forget how organisations often relate to data, here is a potential vision for the future of data—if we don’t pay more attention.

dgen data waste(NB: original photo is copyright Richard Olsenius and used with permission here)

Other links by Jer Thorpe

Data is the new Water I: Water gives life (oil takes it)

4 thoughts on “Data is not the new oil. Data > Oil

  1. Data is the new oil is just a lazy analogy to say “data is very valuable” which in itself is inaccurate. The actions one takes on the insights gained from data are potentially valuable. It is more analogous to atoms or molecules. Building blocks. The main issue is that, currently, data is instantisted as a by product of a business process rather than a concious endevour with a particular end in mind.

  2. In this context, oil isn’t intrinsically valuable either, until you do something to it. The difference is in how data as a material behaves: it doesn’t follow some of the basic rules of physics … we could have a conversation about entropy, but that might require more than a text box.

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