Defining information


The idea of form and structure is central to the understanding of information from its origins in the Latin word informare, meaning ‘to give form to, describe’ (Sukovic, 2008, p.31).

Capurro and Hjørland outlined the long history of the concept of information, and pointed out that ‘informing’, as formation ‘of the mind or character, training, instruction, teaching’, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, have origins in the 14th century(cited in Sukovic, 2008, p.31).

Bates (2005) accepted Edwin Parker’s definition: ‘Information is the pattern of organization of matter and energy’ and called it Information 1. Bates (2006) pointed out that the stress is on patterns of organisation. Hayles (1999, p.209) also commented on patterns as a defining element of information (cited in Sukovic, 2008, p.31).

Buckland (1991, p.41) recognized different dimensions of information, and he called recorded knowledge — information-as-thing, and the act of imparting information — information-as-process. Information-as-thing is of special interest to information systems because systems can deal directly only with information in this sense (cited in Sukovic, 2008, p.31).

Spink and Saracevic (1998, p.252) considered dominant definitions of information, and accepted one that encompassed them all: ‘(i) a message (text), AND (ii) a cognitive interpretation, AND (iii) a contextual consideration’. This definition includes intentionality, affection and motivation as well as social, situational and cultural contexts (cited in Sukovic, 2008, p.31). Information is not knowledge, rather information is the potential for knowledge (Bonaventura, 1997).

Thus, information resides in messages. Information is processed data. Information has a meaning and is organized for some purpose. Information shapes the receiver. Aggregation of data that makes decision making easier. By adding value, information is transformed into knowledge. Data placed into a form that is accessible, timely and accurate.

However, Christopher Fox (1983, p.3) notes: „Information seems to be everywhere. We talk of its being encoded in the genes… disseminated by media of communication… exchanged in conversation… contained in all sorts of things… Libraries are overflowing with it, institutions are bogged down by it, and people are overloaded with it … [yet] no one seems to know exactly what information is” (cited in Case, 2002).

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1972) defines information as any difference that makes a difference to a conscious, human mind. Summarizing 30 years of commentary, Levitan (1980) declared that 29 different concepts had been associated with the term of information (cited in Case, 2002)..

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