Just about every web page has some sort of data behind it. This blog post, for example, has a title, a date, categories, tags, and the body of the post itself, in addition to some other metadata. All of this data sits in a row in the Webmonkey database, waiting for you to call it up. When we display a blog post, you see the content–usually something new or cool in web development. You don’t see data.
The point: the technical site of creating web sites is often about showing data, but users don’t see it that way.
In his presentation Experience is the Product, Peter Merholz has a great series of slides, which I’ve summarized in the above graphic. Even though data is sometimes central to a website, it shouldn’t look like data.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of websites putting the data first. This screenshot comes from a DZone article, appropriately about databases. I would guess that first name and last name are fields in their database. Separating the name into two pieces can be useful, but only behind the scenes. For example, alphabetizing by last name is possible when it’s stored separately.
The way DZone shows the author name isn’t very useful. It starts with the data, rather than the way the user expects to see the data (that is, without the field labels). Yes, this example is nit-picky, but keep an eye out and you’ll notice sites that put the data first. Maybe you’ll even notice yourself doing it, then find a way to make the data blend into the interface.