Information is at least three different things

My definition might be “IA is the art of creating information by arranging things.”

Most of the work in IA deliverables is figuring out what the right things are and then arranging them, choosing the right information to show about them.

When we say “information” we are really talking about three different things:

  1. Information-as-process: When somebody is informed of something, what they know has changed. That change is information-as-process: I read a news article to find out what’s happening in the Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes. I have gone through a change in what I know. This change is the process of becoming informed.
  2. Information-as-knowledge: As somebody becomes informed, they acquire a new intangible fact. This intangible fact is information-as-knowledge: From reading that article, I now know that the Writers’ Guild has reached a labor deal with the studios. That is a new intangible fact that I have. This intangible fact is information.
  3. Information-as-thing: Things are used as evidence, to create knowledge and facilitate a process: I went through this change in what I knew and acquired an intangible fact by interacting with a tangible object: a news article. This article is also information.

We also get information from objects that aren’t intended to be information.

  1. Last night, I also looked at an arrangement of bottles in my refrigerator, becoming informed about what was there. (Information-as-process).
  2. Based on looking at the bottles in my refrigerator, I gained the knowledge that we had ketchup. (Information-as-knowledge.)
  3. I went through this change in what I knew and acquired an intangible fact by interacting with a tangible object: A bottle of ketchup. (Information-as-thing.)

Both a ketchup bottle and a news article are information in some real way.

Research is about extracting information-as-knowledge from objects in the real world, using them as evidence.

This means that whether or not an object is information is contextual.

An antelope existing in the wild is just an object, but an antelope that has been observed by researchers and used as evidence for the average size of an antelope is now information.

What kind of information an object is is also contextual.

News article is one thing to a reader, another to a media researcher, another to an attorney.

Objects can be information in multiple ways, without even trying to.

I remember reading an article in graduate school that opens with an anecdote about the author working in a dusty archive in Europe, looking at financial documents from the 16th century. Another researcher was working there, but he wasn’t reading the documents, instead, he would find a stack and give them a deep sniff. She eventually asked what on earth he was doing and he shared that he was doing research on outbreaks of the plague in that area. When that happened, the clerks would douse everything in vinegar as a disinfectant. Centuries later, he didn’t need to read the documents, the smell of vinegar was telling him what he needed to know.

THE PROBLEM: Everything is information and often multiple kinds at once. Yes unfortunately. Welcome.

The upshot:

  1. People use “information” for lots of different meanings.
  2. As IAs, we have no access to info-as-process or info-as-knowledge. We can only work with things.
  3. Information isn’t a digital phenomenon, neither is its architecture.