June 2003 Archives

actor construction?

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In too many topics, too little time of June 29, 2003, regarding the role of the actor in the actor-network theory and methodology, jeremy writes:

"however, the fixation on the actor is still present. get rid of it, stop thinking about it, think about networks, only networks, and then think about how it constructs the actor, then i think you have a theoretically interesting actor-network theory."

To take the actor-network theory to explain the construction of the actor only would provide a one sided elaboration and perhaps incomplete picture of the relationship between the actors and the network. It is true that a particular network can be treated as an actor (a complex one). However, in the actor-network discourse it is understood that a set of actors interconnected amongst themselves through their links create a network (or a topology). Needless to say, an actor can be part of many networks/topologies at the same time, manifesting itself differently within a particular network.

While networks do have a major role in the process of actor construction, it is also true that actors play a decisive role in the construction of the networks that they are part off, and must be taken into consideration. It is obvious that human actors are not solely constructions by the pertinent networks. Human actors do have intrinsic properties that are not constructible and changeable by the networks/topologies.

This is little bit trickier for non-human actors and it can be claimed that all non-human actors related to information technology (IT) are constructions since they are man made. True, however, we should not forget that information technology actors are mostly used by those who had no say in their construction. Thus, when IT actors are used in networks/topologies other then those that constructed them, they influence and change those networks within which they are imbedded and used.

Even the process of the IT actor construction is not purely one way (i.e. networks construct the actor). In the process of actor construction networks change and are modified along the way (some due to the actors) to finally construct an actor that almost always is different than what was originally though at the beginning of the construction process.

So, yes, actors are constructed, but they also construct the networks. It is an iterative process.

Related:
Defining the ingredients of actor-network and open-content open-communication

open access and ISPs

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In FCC official: No need to regulate ISPs CNET reports FCC official as saying:

"There is no need for the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules to address concerns that high-speed Internet service providers will favor some Web sites over others, an agency official said on Friday."

Is FCC sleeping or something? It is very obvious that internet service provides (as access agents) care only about their bottom line (profits!) and do not want potential profits to surf away to their competitors or to other content providers with whom they do not have mutual agreements.

The main concern however is that if the ISPs are not required to truly provide an open access (i.e. roaming the internet space without restriction) to their customers, the access to the non-for-profit and other activist organizations' websites would suffer. The ISPs could also use their power to restrict access to websites critical of their business practices.

Further, discrimination to content access might also negatively effects innovation:

"The threat of discrimination against content undermines investment and chills innovation," said Mark Cooper, research director at Consumer Federation of America. " We cannot risk having the monopolist destroy the innovative environment of the Internet. It's just too big of a risk to the public interest."

which information 'relevance' is relevant?

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At its basics, relevance is about matching the pertinent thing to an information need. It is established and evaluated by matching the representation of texts and representation of information need (Saracevic, p.6). As the basic and one of the most important concepts in information retrieval (IR) systems, relevance has evolved and in many ways led the evolution in the research, design, and development of IR systems. The concept of relevance has evolved from the system centric approach and into the more user centric approach floating in the discourse of the cognitive viewpoint of information science.

The intuitive understanding of relevance and aboutness has been rather recognized to be very complex, as Mizzaro and Saracevic have shown. In the system centric approach, “Relevance is considered to be a property of the system – it depends on how the system acquires, represents, organizes and matches texts, or in other words on the internal manipulation of the system” (Saracevic, p.6). With the move towards the cognitive viewpoint, research has elaborated on the various relevance attributes and the various manifestations relevance exhibits itself. So, which relevance should IR systems designers, developers and researchers deal with? The paradoxical answer is the relevant relevance at the appropriate level/dimension of manifestation. Based on the intuitive understanding of relevance, Saracevic derives that: “as a cognitive notion relevance involves an interactive, dynamic establishment of a relation by inference, with intentions toward a context” (Saracevic, p.5)

From the above it is evident that context matters. Relevance cannot be addresses without a context especially in relation to the interactive IR systems with the user(s) as the central element affecting multiple manifestation of relevance: “Relevance is a dynamic phenomena: For the same judge, a document may be relevant at a certain point of time and not relevant later, or vice versa” (Mizzaro, p. 814).

If there are multiple manifestations of relevance, is it feasible to identify relevance, a composite one, which perhaps can give us an insight into the relevance as it pertains to a particular situation and task? A challenge like this would perhaps require understanding the relation among the various manifestations of relevance.

Related:
Information Relevance

References:
Mizzaro, S. (1997). Relevance: the whole history. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 48 (9), 810-832

Saracevic, T. (1996). Relevance reconsidered. Information science: Integration in perspectives. Proceedings of the Second Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science. Copenhagen (Denmark), 201-218

Information Relevance

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The most pervasive response to the question “what is it [something] about” in relation to an information object is the answer referring to the pertinent topic or theme as perceived by the individual who is responding. Very rarely the response would be answering the question about the methodology or the framework within which the information object was created. In case of a textual document a response could possibly refer to the methodology, but in most instances perhaps because methodology is the topical issue being covered in the document. Even when the response is regarding the topicality, it is hard to agree on the aboutness of a particular document with great certainty. Nevertheless, in communication with each other, humans intuitively understand and agree on what things are about and what do they relate to. The intuitive understanding of relevance by everyone seems to be closely related to the definition in many dictionaries as “…pertaining to the matter at hand” which people use without much thinking about it (Saracevic, 1996, p.3).

Information and time relevance/aboutness

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Considering the necessity to search for information and the potential resources that can satisfy the necessity, and its aboutness, Mizzaro suggests that “each relevance can be seen as a point in a fourth-dimensional space, the values of each of the four dimensions being: (i) Surrogate, document, information; (ii) query, request, information need, problem; (iii) topic, task, context, and each combination of them; and (iv) the various time instants from the arising of the problem until its solution” (Mizzaro, p, 812).

The dimension of aboutness (task, topic, and context) is rather incomplete in a sense that aboutness in relation to time could have been included, in addition to including time as the fourth dimension. The difference between time as a fourth dimension and time related to aboutness, is that time aboutness would give us relevance related to the passage of time.

For example, a document might be less relevant today in a certain organizational context compared to the earlier relevance it might have had, resulting from the fact that other documents appearing latter have superceded it; something like the induced difference in relevance judgments as a result of two points in time, and the additional difference in relevance when these two points in time are moved together to another time.

This could be considered different than the fourth dimension where the relation between the need for information, the resource to satisfy the need and its aboutness all three change in the way they are related at different points in time. One could argue however that the time aboutness is part of the context.

Nevertheless, I think time aboutness should be treated separately as is the task, the topics, and the context.

Related:
Information Relevance

Reference:
Mizzaro, S. (1997). Relevance: the whole history. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 48 (9), 810-832

statements, reports, and measures for KM

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What are the challenges in the production and dissemination of IC (intellectual capital) statements and measures?

In identifying these challenges we need to perhaps look at few things:
a) what type of intellectual capital and knowledge are these statements and measures representing and meta-representing,
b) what is the intended use,
c) the role of dissemination channels and media type,
d) the role of the context.

The desired result would be to design meaningful and understandable intellectual capital statements and measures in a way that they would represents and transfer the most out of the ‘intangible world’ and into the ‘tangible world’, moderated by the context and the situation as well as the available channels and modes of dissemination.

The representation aspect of such statements is clearly emphasized by McInerney: “Although most information managers are not trained as journalists, a reporter’s skills of capturing, recording, and reporting new knowledge could be beneficial in the active process of finding out what an organization’s members know” (p. 1016).

One could argue that the representation stage is unnecessary in the case when spoken language is use to transfer ‘knowledge’. Even the spoken language though is form of representation of the intangible (short lived unless it is audio recorded or transcribed) and we clearly attempt to use the most appropriate words for representing concepts when sharing our thoughts with others.

References:
McInerney, C. (2002). Knowledge Management and the Dynamic Nature of Knowledge. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53, (12) 1009-1018

“You can’t manage what you don’t know about” (Blair, p. 1027)

“Knowledge management is not an end in itself, it is a means to a further end” (Blair, p. 1028)

One of the most important aspects regarding knowledge management (KM), both as theoretical endeavor and practice, appears to pertain to the question what is it that is being managed. Or, we can better ask ourselves as to what do various authors mean when referring to KM. What’s in the name? In order to differentiate KM from information and data management it needs to be shown that knowledge is different than data and information. Blair’s (2002) explication that knowledge is different than data and information is based on the information theory stratification which puts data as the raw thing, then information which means data arranged in a certain way that presents and brings forth an obvious interpretable meaning, and then knowledge as the next level up, mainly stating that knowledge, exhibited through it characteristics, is different because it resides in peoples minds and it is not tangible (p. 1020). McInerney (2002) also presents the information theory viewpoint of knowledge: “in information theory, knowledge has been distinguished by its place on a hierarchical ladder that locates data on the bottom rung, the next belonging to information, then knowledge, and finally wisdom at the top” (p. 1010). It appears that this kind of placement of knowledge fits better with KM as practice since it distinguishes information-as-thing to be something tangible. If however we look as Brookes’s (1980) elaborations regarding ‘information’, he defines information as a "small bit of knowledge” and “knowledge as a structure of concepts linked by their relationship and information as a small part of such structure” (p. 131). There does not seem to be a necessity to explain why information is different than knowledge, for both Blair and McInerney could have proceeded with their arguments in the articles by showing that knowledge is not a tangible (in physical sense) thing. An argument for the necessity to differentiate knowledge from information in such terms appears to respond to a need to clearly and unambiguously distinguish knowledge management from information and document management (Blair, p. 1019), perhaps more so for KM practitioners.

how is knowledge different than information

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One of the most important aspects regarding knowledge management (KM), both as theoretical endeavor and practice, appears to pertain to the question what is it that is being managed. Or, we can better ask ourselves as to what do various authors mean when referring to KM. What’s in the name?

In order to differentiate KM from information and data management it needs to be shown that knowledge is different than data and information. Blair’s (2002) explication that knowledge is different than data and information is based on the information theory stratification which puts data as the raw thing, then information which means data arranged in a certain way that presents and brings forth an obvious interpretable meaning, and then knowledge as the next level up, mainly stating that knowledge, exhibited through it characteristics, is different because it resides in peoples minds and it is not tangible (p. 1020). McInerney (2002) also presents the information theory viewpoint of knowledge: “in information theory, knowledge has been distinguished by its place on a hierarchical ladder that locates data on the bottom rung, the next belonging to information, then knowledge, and finally wisdom at the top” (p. 1010).

It appears that this kind of placement of knowledge fits better with KM as practice since it distinguishes information-as-thing to be something tangible. However, if we look at Brookes’s (1980) elaborations regarding ‘information’, he defines information as a "small bit of knowledge” and “knowledge as a structure of concepts linked by their relationship and information as a small part of such structure” (p. 131).

There does not seem to be a necessity to explain why information is different than knowledge, for both Blair and McInerney could have proceeded with their arguments in the articles by showing that knowledge is not a tangible (in physical sense) thing. An argument for the necessity to differentiate knowledge from information in such terms appears to respond to a need to clearly and unambiguously distinguish knowledge management from information and document management (Blair, p. 1019), perhaps more so for KM practitioners.

Related:
Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge

References:
Blair, D.C. (2002). Knowledge Management: Hype, Hope, or Help? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53, (12) 1019-1028

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundation of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science 2, 125-133

McInerney, C. (2002). Knowledge Management and the Dynamic Nature of Knowledge. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 53, (12) 1009-1018

how blogs effect each other

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From Blogging goes mainstream on the concept of 'hive brain':

"The way bloggers link and influence each other's thinking could lead to a collective thought process, "a kind of hive brain," said Chris Cleveland, who runs Dieselpoint..."

The analysis of the 'hive brain' concepts sounds like a perfect candidate for the actor-network theory and methodology.

A conceptual (and practical) topology would be a collection of blogs (according to some criteria) linked to each other via the http (and XML) links/referrers and trackbacks. Then, the affect/influence of a particular blog on the rest of the collection of blogs could be analyzed by tracing its residual and ongoing affect, as well as the affect onto itself as a result of being part of the topology.

Needless to say, the open content and the degree of openness of the communication links between the various blogs is of outmost importance. Without the openness the concept of blogs and blogging would not be in the realm as we know it today: blogs and blogging have a meaning in the collection of other blogs and not as isolated entities.

Related:
Defining the ingredients of actor-network and open-content open-communication

The factor 'openness'

how to make 'freer information' be better

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The paradox of the information society, or should I better say paradoxes (depending on the viewpoint and sense used for analysis), are more then evident. Bloch perhaps believed that freer information access will enable better historical research: “Our civilization will take an immense forwards stride on the day when concealment, raised to a rule of action and almost to a bourgeois virtue, shall give way to the desire for information which is necessarily the desire to exchange information” (Bloch, p.70).

Unfortunately, information is still controlled by the ‘bourgeois’ of our time and historical research is as hard as before, maybe even harder since the means for information control have increased in sophistication, dampening any positive effect due to the abundance of information. Actually even the abundance has its negative consequences—the difficulty with the concept of relevance. Certainly the Internet provides some hope due to its apparent openness.

However, the real and true freedom of information can be assessed by the degree to which the distribution of information is based on open communication, i.e. free and open access, and many-to-many communication without oversight by the ‘power(s)’. If “in fact, one of the greatest challenges facing the historian is the extend to which his or her research relies on unpublished materials” (Powell, p.172), how does the task of the historian change if all materials are published?

The new information society will perhaps require new tools for researching the past. This could be taken as challenge by information science for it to provide the tools for discovering the tracks and identifying the links in light of free access and open communication within the appropriate context.

Bloch, M. (1953). The historian's craft by Marc Bloch. New York: Vintage Books.

Powell, R.R. (1997). Basic research methods for librarians. London: Ablex. (Chapter 7: Historical research)

The challenge related to track’s ambiguity is manifold considering that “in contrast to the knowledge of the present, that of the past is necessarily ‘indirect’” (Bloch, p.48). Bloch further explains that “by ‘indirect knowledge’ the methodologists have generally understood that which arrives at the mind of the historian only by way if other human minds” (p.53).

This process of knowledge ‘traveling’ through the human mind unquestionably involves the process of presentation and representation (besides for memorization of texts which ‘copies exactly’), usually in a written form. In this process there is a constant meaning making and interpretation (Bloch, p.187) of the available material. Also, words have different meaning in time and space, therefore historical research needs to account to the extent possible for the contextual meaning of the words ‘placed’ in the time and space (Bloch, p.163).

Related:

the movement of ideas, thoughts, concepts, and knowledge

Bloch, M. (1953). The historian's craft by Marc Bloch. New York: Vintage Books.

…we have no other device for returning through time except that which operates in our minds with the materials provided by past generations” (Bloch, 1953, p.57)

In this short, yet a very significant quote aimed at historical research, Bloch (1953) succinctly states at a high level the methodology appropriate and suitable for a historian to follow and presents a basic but significant tool a historian ought to use, as well it identifies the critical and basic investigative unit, i.e. “the materials provided by past generations” (p.57). Even though the quote is related to historical research aimed at researching history as it is understood and described by the field of history, i.e. “true historical research, or historiography or intellectual history, is concerned with analyzing and interpreting the meaning of historical events within their context” (Powell, 1997, p.166), Bloch’s description of historian’s craft is perhaps applicable and utilizable in many other fields that undertake the task to investigate and make sense of materials not immediately available in the spatial and temporal present as described by Powell: “History has two dimensions…. Historical time, or the chronology which takes into account the spacing of events and/or patterns…. [and] Historical space or where events occurred (i.e., geographical location)” (Powell, p.166).

the movement of ideas, thoughts, concepts, and knowledge

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From the viewpoint of historical research, especially interesting is Darnton’s (1990) elaboration on the history of books, or should I better say Darnton’s application of various historical research tools in his study of history of book with its aim “… to understand how ideas were transmitted through print and how exposure to the printed word affected the thought and behavior of mankind during the last five hundred years” (p. 107).

In this sense, it can be argued that historical research as artisan’s tool and methodology falls within the realm of information studies, or even information science, more so when utilized in analyzing and studying the movement and influence of ideas, thoughts, concepts and knowledge, represented at various levels of intentionality, manifested as temporal and spatial information dissemination via the printed press—containing representations of the products of the human mind.

It appears then that information acts as a carrier, a transmission channel on which ideas, thoughts, concepts, and knowledge ride.

Related:
information: conveyor of ideas, thoughts, concepts and knowledge

Darnton, R. (1990). The Kiss of Lamourette. New York: W.W. Norton.

corporate blogging: a paradox ?!

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The Corporate Blog Is Catching On attempts to analyze the role of blogging in the corporate culture.

The article seems to have missed an important point in its analysis. A corporate culture is mostly a closed culture, in principle directly opposite to the open content and open communication culture of blogging.

So, before 'corporate blogging' becomes a meaningful task to positively impact company’s communication with its environment, a culture change/adaptation is necessary as a precondition.

What is Actor-Network Theory: various ANT definitions

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The possibility of applying the actor-network theory and its methodology to different disciplines and fields of study is evident by the many senses in which it has been used.

The What is Actor-Network Theory? site provides various definitions.

These and many other colors and flavors of ANT represent a very divers scope of its usage and applicability. Here are two definitions that are particularly interesting:

"from Michael Callon
ANT is based on no stable theory of the actor; in other words, it assumes the radical indeterminacy of the actor. For example, neither the actor's size nor its psychological make-up nor the motivations behind its actions are predetermined. In this respect ANT is a break from the more orthodox currents of social science. This hypothesis (which Brown and Lee equate to political ultra-liberalism) has, as we well know, opened the social sciences to non-humans."

"from Bernd Frohmann
ANT's rich methodology embraces scientific realism, social constructivism, and discourse analysis in its central concept of hybrids, or "quasi-objects", that are simultaneously real, social, and discursive. Developed as an analysis of scientific and technological artifacts, ANT's theoretical richness derives from its refusal to reduce explanations to either natural, social, or discursive categories while recognizing the significance of each (see, e.g. Latour 1993, 91). Following the work of Hughes, ANT insists that "the stability and form of artifacts should be seen as a function of the interaction of heterogeneous elements as these are shaped and assimilated into a network" (Law 1990, 113)."

If you visit the site (What is Actor-Network Theory?) you may find other definitions pertinent to your field of study.

Related readings:
Actor-Network Theory

Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge

contextual 'reading' of information objects: do we know how?

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With respect to the Ranganathan's second law, "EVERY PERSON HIS OR HER BOOK” (OR BOOKS ARE FOR ALL) (p.81), a comparable enunciation would be EVERY PERSON/USER HIS OR HER DIGITAL INFORMATION OBJECT (OR DIGITAL INFORMATION OBJECTS ARE FOR ALL). Obviously, in the context of the digital library, this enunciation has far reaching consequences and implications in terms of legal issue such as copyrights, ownerships, freedom of speech, information democracy, etc.

However, an interesting implication is related to the aspect of information literacy or even better said digital information literacy. Given the multitude of digital information objects, even if it is possible and feasible to make available all digital information objects to all users (the obvious hard issue of relevance both research and practice related), it is hard to say whether the users will be able to ‘read’ and ‘understand’ the various digital information objects. We are all familiar how to read text as narrative. However, does every user know how to contextually read a chart, a bar graph, or a video presentation of unknown phenomena?

It appears that the information and medial literacy issues are lacking in the study of digital libraries. Marchionini indirectly raised the issue of technology vs. user in context: “The experience of this case [The Baltimore Learning Company] demonstrated that advanced technical solutions and high-quality content are not sufficient to initiate or sustain community in settings where day-to-day practice is strongly determined by personal, social and political constrains” (p.23).

Technology alone can’t fix problems.

Marchionini, G., Plaisant, C., & Komlodi, A. (in press) The people in digital libraries: Multifaceted approaches to assessing needs and impact. Chapter in Bishop, A. Buttenfield, B. & VanHouse, N. (Eds.) Digital library use: Social practice in design and evaluation. Retrieved October 26th, 2002 from: http://ils.unc.edu/~march/revision.pdf

Ranganathan, S. R. (1957). The five laws of library science. London: Blunt and Sons, Ltd. pp. 11-31, 80-87, 258-263, 287-291, 326-329

Digital Libraries and the Information Society

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“Human-centered digital library design is particularly challenging because human information behavior is a complex and highly context dependent, and the digital library concept and technologies are rapidly changing” (Marchionini et al., p.1)

Digital libraries like many other unique conceptual and practical phenomena resulting from the information explosion have presented both the researchers and the practitioners alike with a challenge to understand its very complex and multifaceted nature. As with any emerging concept and practice, there is a struggle to define its scope and its contextual situatedness. All three articles in one way or another deal with the definition and the meaning of the term ‘digital library’, the social relevance, and its place in the information society amid the multitude of contexts it is imbedded, and its implication for research and practice.

digital open access systems

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In enunciating the third law (“EVERY BOOKS ITS READER”) Ranganathan states that this law: “would urge that an appropriate reader should be found for every book” (p.258). The implication would be to build a digital open access system where users can remotely browse and access all digital information objects in a digital library.

From another point of view EVERY DIGITAL INFORMATION OBJECT ITS READER/USER could mean that there must be a purpose behind digital library’s acquisition (or buying licenses) of a particular digital content. If a user/reader for a particular digital content is not always in sight, what is the point in a digital library to ‘carry’ it? But then, here is the challenge: who determines and knows what digital collections a digital library should ‘carry’ when its scope and user base is potentially more versatile due to the global nature?

Ranganathan, S. R. (1957). The five laws of library science. London: Blunt and Sons, Ltd. pp. 11-31, 80-87, 258-263, 287-291, 326-329

On Open Access

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The Open Access page at the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) presents a critical viewpoint about the need and the necessity of open access in the midst of the corporate attempt to control all major access channels.

Besides the need for open access, there is a need for open content and open communication if there is to be a viable and substantial public discourse on digital democracy.

Weblogs, Blogs and the academia

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Why Scholars Blog provides a short discussion on blogging by academics by refering to the article "Scholars Who Blog" in Chronicle of Higher Education.

information scienceS or information science

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Machlup and Mansfield (1983), aiming to “to analyze the logical (or methodological) and pragmatic relations among the disciplines and subject areas that are centered on information” (p. 3), look at the various sciences, disciplines, and fields of studies who directly or indirectly take information to be their subject of study. They present a well rounded argument and historical overview of the same. The aim is to explicate if possible the intersection (its nature and properties) of all those activities that deal with information directly or indirectly, given that “Information is not just one thing. It means different things to those who expound its characteristics, properties, elements, techniques, functions, dimensions, and connections” (Machlup et al., 4).

The preceding quote also suggests that the different meanings of information have paved the way for the emergence and divergence of many different sciences, disciplines and fields of study related to information.

To remedy this diffusion Machlup et al. suggest: “that most of the confusion caused by the use of the term information science in its broadest sense could be avoided by the addition of the plural s. The information sciences could then take place alongside the natural sciences, the social sciences, and other umbrella terms that indicate a grouping of disciplines and fields of study that share a common characteristics” (p19). This suggestion is novel one, perhaps one day we will be talking of the ‘school of information sciences’.

information science: a science in making?

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A general observation is that information science is science in making, not yet fully established as a ‘normal science’ in Kuhnian sense: “’normal science’ means research firmly based upon one or more past scientific achievements, achievements that some particular scientific community acknowledges for a time as supplying the foundation for its further practice” (Kuhn, 1970, p.108).

Also, various information problems treated by information science lack a coherent paradigmatic understanding and definition of the information phenomenon: “in the absence of paradigm or some candidate for paradigm, all of the facts that could possibly pertain to the development of a given science are likely to seem equally relevant” (Kuhn, p. 113). As such, the multitude of information problems are addressed by variety of methodologies, conceptually viewpoint, and some theories borrowed by information science practitioners from other social and natural sciences with which information science has interdisciplinary relations.

Kuhn, T. (1970). Chapter 2: The Route to Normal Science, Structure of Scientific Revolutions 2/E, 2(2) 10-22. University of Chicago Press

knowlege exosomatically independent ?!

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In the various discourses treating 'information' and information science, a very suggestive and potential understanding of the information phenomenon is surprisingly missing. The following quote by Brookes: “The artifacts which record human knowledge exosomatically become independent of the knowing subjects who created them. These artefacts are no longer subjective and inaccessible but objective and accessible to all who care to study them….” (p. 128) suggests that the various information and knowledge artifactcs contain within themselves objective information and knowledge. If these physical objects carry and transmit the symbols, isn’t it feasible then to think of ‘information’, somehow embedded with the symbols, as the conceptual channel for transmitting ideas, thought, concepts, knowledge? The suggestion of this thought or conceptualization of information would not have been justified if knowledge deposited in knowledge artifacts could not be considered “independent of the knowing subjects who created them”.

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundation of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science, 2, 125-133

Abstract

This study analyses, compares and critiques a set of articles and writings that have treated and examined the ‘information’ phenomenon and the way various discourses and understandings of ‘information’ have been utilized in the field of information science and information studies. The methodological and theoretical foundations of the various understandings are discussed, not forgetting the effect of the context within which the various concepts and understanding of the ‘information’ phenomenon came into existence and use. In addition, an attempt is made to understand and trace the impact of the various understandings and concepts in their subsequent use within various practical and theoretical studies in information science, information studies, communication technology, and new media, as well as the role of information science and information related practices on the development of the understandings of ‘information’. The examination of the relevant literature shows a two sided aspect in the development of the information concept and information related disciplines (the science and the practice) as constantly informing each other over time: the understandings of ‘information’ posit questions to be answered by information science research and practice and visa versa, the information practice posits and instigates a need to properly understand information.

objective knowledge: its degree of permanence

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The following quote by Brookes presents a great challenge: “In other words, once human knowledge has been recorded [in World III], it attains a degree of permanence, an objectivity, an accessibility which is denied to the subjective knowledge of individual humans” (Brookes, p. 128). Most intriguing is about this statement is that knowledge, once recorder, attains a degree of permanence, objectiveness, and accessibility. Not quite sure if Brookes meant to say relative permanence, objectivity and accessibility bound by time and space. Otherwise, it would suggest that the recorded knowledge and information have an intrinsic property or characteristics or structures which can be detached and maintained in truly objective manner outside of the situation and the context it was created. If so, understanding these characteristic, structures, properties and manifestation could be the first steps towards the theory of information.

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundation of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science, 2, 125-133

In everyday life, the word ‘information’ is closely associated with the concept of communication, more specifically with the aspect of communication of ideas, thoughts, and knowledge, bringing forth an understanding of information that it has properties to convey ideas, thoughts, concepts and knowledge. But, how exactly is information conveyed? If information is conveyable, is it the process that helps convey understanding between two human beings, or is information the knowledge conveyed between two cognitive entities? These questions bring forth different understanding of the word information, as Machlup and Mansfield (1983) have succinctly capture it in the above quote, suggesting that information is not a thing that is simple to describe and explain. It is a phenomenon with multifaceted understanding, perhaps requiring multitude of methodologies and means of investigation and research. Buckland (1991) identifies three principal uses of the word information: 1) information-as-process (the ability to inform), 2) information-as-knowledge (the knowledge imparted in the process of being informed), and 3) information-as-thing (p.3), concentrating on the various properties of information and its different manifestations and understandings.

Machlup, F. & Mansfield, U. (1983). Cultural Diversity in Studies of Information. In F. Machlup and U. Mansfield (Eds.), The Study of Information. Wiley, 3-59

Buckland, M. (1991). Information and Information Systems. Chapters 1, 4, 5 & 6. New York: Preaeger

"Open Stacks"

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'Open Stacks' is an interesting blog concerned with the promotion of information access and literacy for all.

Information Literacy

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Some Social perspectives of Knowledge Management

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Skeptical Knowledge Management In: Hans-Christoph Hobohm (Ed.): Reader: Knowledge Management and Libraries. IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Publication series, Munich: Saur 2003 (in print)

Stable Knowledge (2000) Paper presented at the Workshop: Knowledge for the Future - Wissen für die Zukunft, Brandenburgische Technische Universität Cottbus, Zentrum für Technik und Gesellschaft, March 19-21, 1997.

The Memex: Are we there yet?

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In his visionary article “As We May Think”, it could be easily said that Vannevar Bush (1945) put in motion many of the concepts of various contemporary sciences. The most remarkable of all, as it interests the students of information objects and knowledge records, is his vision and vivid description of the memex and what it could do to capture the knowledge of individuals and make it available and accessible for generations to come (p.101), effectively recognizing the societal knowledge and its importance for the future of humankind.

Bush also presents a problem and challenge to the cognitive viewpoint of information science and also the cognitive science in general. His concept of association is most remarkable: “… however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. The process of tying two items together is the important thing” (p.107). It took the practitioners of computer science almost half a century to implement this important concept in databases, resulting in relational databases, considered by many experts one of the most important innovations in the field of digital storage and access to data and knowledge records.

Bush, Vannevar (1945). As We May Think. Atlantic Monthly, 176, (11), 101-108

Buckland’s three senses of information

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Buckland’s three senses of information, 1) information-as-process (the ability to inform), 2) information-as-knowledge (the knowledge imparted in the process of being informed), and 3) information-as-thing (p.3), are the most pervasive understanding of information in use by various disciplines, with information-as-thing perhaps most evidently effecting the understanding of information science research and practices so far.

“information-as-thing … is the only form of information with which information systems can deal directly” (Buckland, p.54).

“… [Knowledge/information] … is intangible. One cannot touch it or measure it in any direct way (Buckland, Ch.1)

“Therefore, to communicate them [knowledge, beliefs, and opinions], they have to be expressed, described, or represented in some physical way, as mark, signal, text, or communication.” (Buckland, Ch1)

“Since information and information handling is pervasive in human activities, an exploration of information systems that did not include the social, economic, and political context and the broad social role of information would be seriously incomplete” (Buckland, Ch1).

(Re: Information vs. Knowledge)

Buckland, M. (1991). Information and Information Systems. Chapters 1, 4, 5 & 6. New York: Preaeger

initial thoughts on library and information science

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Before I started this class (194:601 – Fall 2001), I had an idea about what information is. Perhaps, I was more or less in tune with the technical view of information—something that can be measured—as result of my telecommunications and information technology background. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the social aspect of information and its related phenomena, discovering that telecommunication and information technology are actually 'products' resulting from a multitude of problems treated in the information science domain. Brookes 'fundamental equitation of information science' K[S]+ΔI=K[S+ΔS] (Brookes, p. 131) is a very profound expression of human natural way of thinking and basis for treating various aspect of information related phenomena. Having defined information as a "small bit of knowledge” (p. 131), Brookes further explains his view of “knowledge as a structure of concepts linked by their relationship and information as a small part of such structure” (p. 131). Noting that “theoretical information science hardly yes exists” (p. 125), Brookes defines “the task of information science … as the exploration of this world of objective knowledge which is an extension of, but is distinct from, the world of documentation and librarianship” (p. 125).

'Objective knowledge' is the main concept around which Brookes' fundamental equitation operates, situated in Popper’s World 3: “He [Popper] recognizes a third world, that of objective knowledge which is the totality of all human thought embodied in human artifacts, as in documents of course, but also in music the arts, the technologies. These artifacts enshrine what Popper declares to be his autonomous—or near autonomous—world of objective knowledge” (p. 127). The other two Popper worlds are the physical world (World 1) and “World 2, the world of subjective mental states, [which] is occupied by our thoughts and mental images….” (p. 129).

Information, Information Structures, Bibliometrics

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Before I started the Ph.D. program here at SCILS, I thought I had a clear idea about what information is, just to discover that “what is information?” seem to be a classical and still unanswered question. Brookes’s elaboration of Popper’s World I, II, and III from the information and knowledge conceptual realms presents refreshing thoughtfulness about the concepts of information and knowledge. Brookes’s 'fundamental equitation of information science' K[S]+ΔI=K[S+ΔS] (Brookes, p. 131) is a very profound expression of human and natural way of thinking and a basis for treating various aspect of information related phenomena. Having defined information as a "small bit of knowledge” (p. 131), Brookes further explains his view of “knowledge as a structure of concepts linked by their relationship and information as a small part of such structure” (p. 131). Noting that “theoretical information science hardly yes exists” (p. 125), Brookes defines “the task of information science … as the exploration of this world of objective knowledge which is an extension of, but is distinct from, the world of documentation and librarianship” (p. 125).

'Objective knowledge' is the main concept around which Brookes' fundamental equitation operates, situated in Popper’s World 3: “He [Popper] recognizes a third world, that of objective knowledge which is the totality of all human thought embodied in human artifacts, as in documents of course, but also in music, the arts, the technologies. These artifacts enshrine what Popper declares to be his autonomous—or near autonomous—world of objective knowledge” (p. 127). The other two Popper worlds are the physical world (World 1) and “World 2, the world of subjective mental states, [which] is occupied by our thoughts and mental images…” (p. 129).

In attempt to identify what information science ought to do, Brookes recognizes that “documents and knowledge are not identical entities” (p. 127), and differentiates between practical and theoretical information science: “the practical work of library and information scientists can now be said to collect and organize for use the records of World 3. And the theoretical task is to study the interactions between Worlds 2 and 3, to describe them and explain them if they can and so to help in organizing knowledge rather than documents for more effective use” (p. 128-9)

World 1 = the physical world
World 2 = the world of subjective mental states occupied by our thoughts and mental images
World 3 = the world of objective knowledge which is the totality of all human thought embodied in human artifacts, as in documents of course, but also in music, the arts, the technologies

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundation of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science 2, 125-133

In Belkin, Oddy, and Brooks (1982a) the subject of interest is the ability to represent and classify user’s ASKs (anomalous state of knowledge), i.e. identifying, representing and classifying that which is not known, that which makes a user initiate information-seeking behavior. In a sense, representations and classifications of users ASKs directly or indirectly ought to lead to improvements of information-seeking and information use. Apart from the apparent improvements of information retrieval (IR) systems, models and techniques, classification of information needs (as represented through the problem statement which help derive the ASK representation) could potentially help individual users and especially the scientists in the scholarly community to quickly identify and classify their information needs in such a way that will improve their information-seeking activities in relation to research issues which demand use of multitude of information types and sources when working on a research problem. In this paper I would like to elaborate the implication of the ASK identification and classification concepts and its applicability and benefit in the process of information-seeking and its use by members of the scholarly community when working to identify a research problem. This seems to fall within the scope of ‘user studies’ as explained by Wilson (1994): “I take starting point of ‘user studies’ to be the individual information user who, in response to some perceived ‘need’, engages in information-seeking behavior” (p.16). Here I’m not interested with the technological system level, rather with the social structures that manifest themselves as sources of information that aid a scientist in finding the pertinent information. Examples of such social structures as information sources from which a researcher can benefit would be: journals, books, libraries, invisible colleges, colleagues at schools, professors, specialized discussion lists, conferences, colloquiums, etc.

Historical overview of Informatoin Science

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Considering this week’s topic on the historical overview of information science and librarianship, I indulged myself into the readings with the aim of clarifying for myself what is that actually we are studying in information science, and perhaps more importantly looking for a succinct definition such that I can quickly and easily explain to friends and family the aim, scope and subject of my field of study. Further, given my traditional education as electrical engineer (bachelors) and more specifically telecommunication engineer (masters) within the realms of the electrical engineering field, I was looking for discourses attempting to decompose the concept or the thing we easily refer to as ‘information’ into its more elementary parts. This assumes that information might be decomposable, its nature can be examined, and that it can help to systematically treat the problems claimed to be in the realm of information science and librarianship.

The book chapter by Vakkari (1994) represents a comprehensive, informative, and critical overview of the historical directions of information studies and librarianship, its interdisciplinary nature, and past and present problems treated by the field. Vakkari’s critical framework of analysis attempts to locate information science and librarianship within the domains of the already established sciences or fields of studies, thus he borrows concepts and tools for analysis from sociology and philosophy of science (p.3). The interdisciplinary nature of information science (for Vakkari librarianship is one with information science) clearly surfaces from his analysis.

Information is not just one thing

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“Information is not just one thing. It means different things to those who expound its characteristics, properties, elements, techniques, functions, dimensions, and connections.” (Machlup and Mansfield, p. 4)

Machlup, F. & Mansfield, U. (1983). Cultural Diversity in Studies of Information. In F. Machlup and U. Mansfield (Eds.), The Study of Information. Wiley, 3-59

why actor-network?
"In Social constructionism vs. technological determinism it has been suggested that the actor-network theory and its methodological framework may provide the language and the mode of explanation to elaborate in a common framework the interplay between human and non-human entities.
Most importantly, the major contribution of the actor-network theory seems to be the fact that it treats the human and non-human elements (or actors as the various element in a given topology are named in the actor-network language) alike as being able to influence each other."

translation
"So, how do the actors in a particular topology influence each other? This is done through their links. The actor-network theory suggests that a process of translation takes place, a process that explains how and why some actors take the attributes and properties of the actors they are connected too. Thus, certain properties of one actor are transferred to other actors through their mutual links. The question arises then as to what/which properties and attributes of an actor can be transferred onto another and initiate a process of translation onto the actor it is connected too? Further, what is the role of the properties and attributes of the links in the process of translation/transfer? Which properties and attributes of the links are important to this process?"

openness
"...the modifiable content depending on the intrinsic and external properties can be described and manifests itself in various degrees of openness. Similarly, the communication links vary in degree of their communicative properties via which the properties and the attributes of the actors are transferred and translated into other actors via inscription."

properties and attributes: links, actors, topologies
"The translation process enables an actor/entity (simple or complex) to inscribe its properties and attributes onto other actors in the pertinent topologies. This suggests that there is a movement of some sort from one actor to another. Certainly, in any given topology not all actors are able to inscribe their properties and attributes equality into other actors. Some properties and attributes are more prevalent in any given topology. What determines the strength of the attributes and the properties?"

Social constructionism vs. technological determinism
"For example, if one is to research the usability of collaboration tools in an organizational settings, the social constructionism for most part takes the view that the information and communication technologies are just tools to be used by the employees to perform their assigned tasks and that these tools do not effect the employees or the relevant social structures. On the other side, technical determinist consider the affect that these tools will have on the employees and the surrounding organizational structures resulting from their use."

Information space and cognitive space

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Newby's second area of emphasis for the long-term goal of exosomatic memory "to enable personalized relations to representations of data sets (as opposed to 'one size fits all')" (p. 1028) I believe should play more important factor in designing information systems. My suggestion is that in order to have and enable personalized relations to representations of data sets, it is not necessary to have similarity and consistency between the information space and cognitive space. Rather, information spaces should be built with generality of use in mind, stressing on efficiency and performance, perhaps matching a generic human cognitive space. The emphasis should be placed towards designing the interfaces that will help present the generic information space as unique and conceptually similar and consistent with user’s cognitive space. The representation interfaces will be designed particularly to user's cognitive space in mind with the ability to interface with multiple information spaces.

The advantage could be twofold: a) generic information systems and their corresponding information spaces will have wider use and utility since they are not designed for a particular cognitive space; b) human users will be able to tap into multitude of information spaces with easy, without the need for each system to be designed with their cognitive space in mind. What I have suggested could lead to decoupling of the representation interface from the computerized representation of data set in information systems.

Once this decoupling occurs, ideally, various specialized information spaces/systems can be used in distributed cognition processes. Considering that in distributed cognition "the central unit of analysis is the functional system, which essentially is a collection of individuals and artefacts and their relations to each other in a particular work practice" (Rogers, p. 122) and that "… the focus is on the way in which knowledge is transmitted between team members and on how information is propagated through and across the artefacts" (p. 122), the decoupling can aid in designing and building artefacts open to various representation interfaces, capable to tap into multitude of information spaces.

Such congruence between artefacts with more generic information space (could be domain particular) and representation interfaces capable to tap into multitude of information spaces, and yet representing the information and knowledge in a form compatible with the cognitive space of the particular user, could yield in designing and building effective and efficient distributed cognition environments.

References:

Newby, G. B. (2001). Cognitive Space and Information Space. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology, 52, 1026-1048.

Rogers, Y. & Ellis, J. (1994). Distributed Cognition: An Alternative Framework for Analyzing and Explaining Collaborative Working. Journal of Information Technology, 9, 119-128.

the book as an agency for social change

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It is the confrontation between the book merchants—who saw the prohibition of heretic books as threat to their business (Febure et al, p.304)—and reformers on one side, and the authorities of religious, political, social and social institutions on the other, we see reflected by Mill (1921). Mill suggests that it is the confrontation of one’s opinions and ideas via open and free discussion, free from governmental oversight and censorship that leads to the advancements and progress in human society. In the case of the book, it is the ‘heretic’ book itself—the other opinion, which through a very long struggle brought about the opinion to be freely expressed, free from censorship. Fabure & Martin (1976) suggest that it is this exchange of diverse opinions via the books and other printed material, rather tragic in many instances in various periods in human history, that helped and fueled the ‘coming of the book’ as an artifact of daily life (p.108).

Whatever the ways in which the book was used and by whom, analogous to other technological advance in the human history which have been use to benefit the human society as well as wrack havoc, an undeniable benefit will be permanently associated with the printed book: its ability to keep records of information and representations of human knowledge, making them available through space and time, thus acting at distance as an artifact for social change. This is book’s double role as a statement/representation of social and individual knowledge, and as an actor or agency acting upon the same.

Fabure, L. and Martin, H.A. (1976). Book as a Force for Change. In the Coming of the Book, N.L.B., 248-332

Mill, John Stuart. (1921). On Liberty. Atlantic Monthly Press, 59-111

The concepts brought forth by the actor-network theory are so pervasive in our daily lifes that we utilize them without acknowledging the aforementioned scholarly freameworks.

For example, we constantly try to convince our friends to come and see a movie with us, or advice them to take a certain class we found beneficial. We do this without draining out brains about each and every detail of why we acted in a particular manner. Perhaps it is this pervasiveness in daily life encounters that when reading and learning about as actor-network such concepts one does not necessarily find ‘new’ things besides the fact that they have enables us to engage in scholarly discourse, presenting and structuring our thoughts, ideas and opinions in ways to make them easily inscribable (both in people's minds and as exosomatic memory artifacts) such that they perform at distance across time and space. In this endeavor we do not stand as isolated individuals, we are also performed upon.

Both the actor-network theory and ANT have acted as inscription and translation tools in the process of writing warious class papers, seemingly to act at distance for some time to come in my scholarly training. These statement regarding inscription and performation are circular in nature (we learn but that learning affects how we learn in the future), perhaps letting us know that we are not isolated; we constantly perform and are performed upon.

In their presentation of historical accounts around and about the book right after the printed press become feasible for mass use, Fabure and Martin (1976) argue that business decisions about profitability played crucial role for spreading the book and making it widely used—speaking in relative terms. A point not explicitly raised and elaborated in this particular chapter, however, leads to a need for explication that profit-making ventures could not have been solely responsible for the dramatic change that took place in the wide acceptance of the book. A favorable interplay of social, political, and cultural factors was a necessary ingredient for merchants of the book to be successful in their ventures. One could argue that this favorable atmosphere came about because of necessary historical forces in line with the concept of the progressive human evolution, where merchants and profit-minded people sized the opportunity to enrich themselves utilizing this new phenomenon. In this short paper, I argue that the merchants of the book, together with reformists like Luther and Calvin played a crucial role in bringing the book to the masses. On one side, merchants saw profitability with the increased readership. On the other, Luther and Calvin envisioned the book (or any printed material for that matter) as an agent for social and political change. Various kings, monarchs, noblemen, religious authorities, and religious institutions that had no interest in changing the social and political structures of their dominions, jumped the bandwagon little late after having realized the powerful tool Luther and Calvin had at their disposal.

In the beginning phases of the ‘coming of the book’ where it slowly started to become an item in the daily lives of those who had access to it (those who could afford it and who could read), a functional analogy could be drawn with Ranganathan’s Second Law of Library Science, Every readers his or her book (Ranganathan, p. 81). The merchants did not just print any books. They made tremendous attempt to print the books that they thought would be in demand so they can profit. At that time, only religious books and pamphlets used by the clergy were in high demand.

societies need constant flow of knowledge and information

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“Just as the individual mind deteriorates when it is deprived of knowledge or information, so also society disintegrates when there is not a constant flow of knowledge among its members, and throughout the parts that comprise its structure and organization” (Shera, p. 122)

Shera, J.H. (1970). Sociological Foundation of Librarianship. Washington, D.C.: ASIS Publishing, 52-110.

Language and Information

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The spoken and the written language is one of the many techniques for conveying information. As such, certain aspect of the language can be considered to fall within the realm of information science research and practice. The role of language in information science has not been explicated and explored in details. Considering that language is an instrument of communicant for conveying ideas, concepts, thought and knowledge between two cognitive entities, its study in information science is very compartmental. Considering the task of information science to untangle the mysteries of accessing the bewildering amount of information, there has been relatively very little theoretical research done in information science in utilizing the instrument of language in the process of (re)presentation of knowledge and thought into written textual artifact and the reverse process of interpreting the textual artifact for learning purposes. There seems to be a lack of integrated theoretical research regarding the content and its possible meaning.

Nevertheless, there has been some breakthrough in utilization of language related tools in information retrieval for manual and automated indexing of textual information as well as representation and formulation of queries with the help of various language constructs. The activity of utilizing language tools is known as natural language processing (NLP), with term discovering, identification and acquisition as the main tasks: “The two main activities involving terminology in NLP are term acquisitions, the automatic discovery of new terms, and term recognition, the identification of known terms in text corpora” (Jacquemin & Bourigault, p.6)

As far as information science is concerned, NLP techniques and tools are mostly applied in manual and automatic indexing and representation of information objects, as well as representation and formulation of requests. In addition, “indexes are useful for information seekers because they: support browsing, a basic mode of human information seeking; provide information seekers with a valid list of terms, instead of requiring users to invent the terms on their own….; are organized in a way that bring related information together…” (Wacholder et al., 2001, p.116). The terms appear to be very significant tools for the initial queries and the initial few modifications as they provide a controlled environment that aims at assisting the user in the right quest.

As I've tried to explain in some of the previous entries, the notion of open content is an important element in the utilization of the actor-network theory and methodology to explain and elaborate how various actors in a given topology inscribe their congruent properties and attributes onto other actors. Indeed, the 'open content' as a property of an actor is itself inscribable onto other actors.

Without the possibility of open content it becomes impossible to talk about the inscription and translation process. For example, if the content of an actor (the content manifests itself as different 'thing' to different actors) exhibits characteristics of openness, it means it is modifiable as a result of outside factors (i.e. other actors) that act upon it via the many links to which it is connected. A totally closed content would be defined as a content that is not modifiable by the other actors even though they are linked to it.

A totally open content becomes as troublesome to explain and elaborate as the totally closed content. A totally open content could mean modifiability by all actors without much control and process and that might not be a desirable scenario in most instances.

Instead, most open content is subject to degrees of openness resulting from the surrounding actors linked to the actor via the links that are also subject to degrees of openness in their ability to communicate the translation and inscription properties and attributes.

The factor 'openness'

software can't manage and/or manipulate knowledge

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In his critical analysis of Harvard Business Review's article 'IT Doesn't Matter' (by Nicholas Carr), David Kirkpatrick makes the following comment in Stupid-Journal Alert: Why HBR's View of Tech Is Dangerous: "One of the article's most glaring flaws is its complete disregard for the centrality of software. Any human knowledge or information can be mediated and managed by software."

This comment is very simplistic and disregards the fact that the human knowledge is more than just information that can be managed by software. If by information Kirkpatrick defines the 'thing' that software is able to manipulate, then certainly human knowledge does not equate information. As such, Carr might be justified in principle when stating that 'IT Doesn't Matter'. Whether we have reached the time where IT really does not matter is another story. But, if information is different than the human knowledge (and appears to be so otherwise we would use the word informational as synonymous with knowledgeable) soon the IT infrastructure will reach a point where the actual knowledge will make a difference and NOT the 'information as thing' which is what IT (and software) can manipulate.

To the argument that knowledge can be manipulated and managed by software it should be added that knowledge is not something that resides in files or other entities that can be manipulated by software. If anything, inscriptions and writings in files and documents that claim to present certain knowledge, are (re)presentations only and an approximation of the human knowledge that can only reside in the human mind. So, what software can and does manipulate and manage is certainly not knowledge.

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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