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IMS5048: Information Continuum -- Lecture 1

Week 1: Introduction


1: Introduction.

2: Defining Information and the Information Continuum

3: The ‘Information Revolution'

4: The Information Continuum Model.

5: Exploring Alternative Definitions of Information


The Information Continuum subject has a deliberate theoretical foundation. Its purpose is primarily to provide a conceptual aid to practice - to earning a living, and contributing to the improvement of communities, organisations, and society as a whole through:

Arguably these objectives are made more urgent by the perceived ‘information technology revolution', and the vast growth and influence of the computer and telecommunications sectors (see 2 below).

This subject encompasses such current issues, and their effects on people and institutional structures. However - perhaps more importantly - the subject focuses on fundamental informational concepts and categories that have arisen and developed incrementally over millennia, and are likely to endure into the deep future. This continuity has and will be marked by changes in:

•  how people act in their daily lives

•  how communities and societies are structured

•  how culture is transmitted and developed among people and across generations

•  how people and groups remember (or forget)

•  how society develops and validates the intellectual categories that underlie knowledge and, not least,

•  how the tools or technology of storage and transmission inter-relate with all of the above.

The subject will have achieved its objectives if the students feel, at the end of the program, that they have an improved capacity to consider any information-related issue, or enter any information-related situation, and to formulate an interpretation of main factors and relationships involved as outlined above.

Further than this, the interpretation would take account of how far, and in what ways, the informational issue or situation mainly involves:

•  The creation of information (generating meaningful elements of communication).

•  The capture of information (the recording or embodiment, at the appropriate time and place, of selected information in forms or containers that are suitable for particular purposes).

•  The organisation of information (achieving ‘best fit' between the needs and practices of corporations or other groups, and the deployment of information which such groups generate, use or provide).

•  The pluralisation of information (the capacity for particular sets or sub-sets of information to be used beyond the confines of single organisations, or even across different societies, and globally).

Arising from such understanding and interpretation, it should be possible for the information professional to recommend and/or implement changes to information infrastructures, systems, flows, products or services. Such changes should result in improved cost-effectiveness, and improved satisfaction on the part of stakeholders -- both individuals and groups. Such changes should also result -- directly or indirectly -- in enhanced individual, corporate and social learning.

Most readings for this unit can be found at: http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/resourcelists/i/ims5048.html.

2: Defining Information and the Information Continuum

Information can be conceptualised in many ways.

One important way of conceptualising information is as the content and context of communication, or more precisely 'meaningful elements of a communicative transaction'. Information defined in this way arises from communicative actions, large and small, which pervade every aspect of life (Kaufer and Carley 1993). This definition

follows Kaufer and Carley (1993):

... from a transactional perspective, the communication is divisible into pieces of information. Each piece of information can be communicated and understood separately (p.105).

Kaufer and Carley give as an example how people might interact with the text of Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet'. A person partially familiar with the play might know the words:

‘Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?' (act 2, sc 2, 1. 23)

Such a person would find a meaning in this informational element. However the meaning conveyed by the quotation to that person might change if the sentence is read in conjunction with further information from the text, i.e., that the quotation forms part of a soliloquy on the nature of names, including the familiar words:

What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet. (act 2, sc. 2, 1. 43)

Thus what is defined as information not only has meaning, but that meaning derives both from content and context . This is the definition of information that has been adopted in developing information continuum thinking at Monash.

Continuing the themes, ask yourself what these words have in common?

Pillar box,
Fire engine,

The answer is that they are all a form of red in colour. Do they have anything else at all in common that would interest anyone?

Consider this image:






What can this message mean, considering any imaginable contexts of the upright stone object, fixed in the ground?

The notion of a continuum encompassed by this thinking relates to 'a viewpoint that sees natural and social phenomena in the world – past, present and future, as seamlessly linked'.

This led us to conclude that the focus of information continuum thinking is 'the content and context of communication processes as they interact in an extensive and complex ecology through time and space'. The features of the information continuum will be explored in later classes.

3: The ‘Information Revolution'

Numerous texts and articles have been written about ‘the information explosion', ‘the information society' and ‘the information revolution'. It is not the intention of this subject to provide an extensive recapitulation of what has been presented, synthesised or summarised elsewhere. Rather, this subject seeks to present a systematic framework to assist people to comprehend and integrate the vast quantities of information about information that are available to them. The literature about information -- both printed and electronic -- is used selectively in constructing the framework called the Information Continuum, and in illustrating its applicability. It is worth remembering that other models of information exist, created by other theorists.

To get a flavour of the literature on ‘the information revolution', read the following contributions from Bill Gates, Barry Jones and Anthony Giddens.

Most readings for this unit can be found at: http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/resourcelists/i/ims5048.html.

W.H. Gates (1997). Address to the 1997 American Society for the Advancement of Science Meeting, Seattle. See: http://www.abc.net.au/science/rw/specials/gates.htm.

Barry Jones (1995). Sleepers, wake! (New ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press, pp.175-92. Found in most libraries, including public libraries. Digitised at Monash Library.

Barry Jones continues to expound on the impact of information technology on Australia – see ‘Australia at the Crossroads? Scenarios and strategies for the future, An address by the Hon. Prof. Barry Jones, AO, FAA, FAHA, FTSE, FRSA, FAIM to the John Curtain International Institute, Perth, 08 June 2000', at http://www.brisinst.org.au/papers/jones_crossroads/.

A. Giddens (1997). Sociology . (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 382-395. Found in most libraries, including public libraries.

4:The Information Continuum Model.

For other variations on this diagram, see

Donald Schauder, Graeme Johanson, Larry Stillman (2005), ‘Sustaining and transforming a community network: The information continuum model and the case of VICNET', in

Journal of community informatics , v 1, no 2, at:

http://ci-journal.net/viewarticle.php?id=82&layout=abstract , in pdf or html.

5.Exploring Alternative Definitions of Information


Related Reading

M. K. Buckland. (1991). Information as thing. See


5.2. Information As

Information scientist Michael Buckland's writings have been very influential in defining information. Read the summarised version of Michael Buckland's definition and note how he defines information as process, knowledge and thing.


An action/process.

The act of informing or telling, of communicating knowledge or news of some fact or occurrence.


An intangible entity, an abstract.

The knowledge communicated, news, intelligence.


A tangible entity, a representation of knowledge.

An object which is informative, which has the quality of imparting knowledge or communicating information, e.g., data, document.


In order to explore further these ways of defining information, think about the following questions in light of Buckland's article:

1.If a fire alarm sounds in your building while you're there, could the sound be defined as information in any of the senses Buckland discusses?

2.If it rings when there is nobody to hear it, is it information?

3.If there are people in the building, the fire alarm informs them (information-as-process); what it conveys is an intangible (information-as-knowledge); but is the sound itself a representation of knowledge (information-as-thing)?

4.If there is no-one there to hear it, is it information in any sense?

5.In what circumstances, might the sound be information-as-thing -- if it is recorded by an emergency system?

6.Would you agree that in order to function as information-as-thing or a representation of knowledge, information has to be stored, retrievable and accessible?

5.3.Documents as Recorded Information: Information-As-Thing

Buckland's approach to defining information-as-thing, and documents as examples of information-as-thing, leads to a focus on the following ways of characterising recorded information as ‘documents':

Firstly, documents are seen as representations of knowledge, as objects.

Secondly, documents have the attributes of being:

Thirdly, documents can comprise text (writing, numbers, musical notation), image (pictures, paintings, photographs, diagrams, graphs, maps), moving image (film, video) and/or recorded sound (speech, music, noise), even human body language. (You may wish to explore Goffman's The presentation of Self in Everyday Life in the online readings).

Fourthly, the information represented, stored, retrievable and accessible in documentary form can be in different media or multimedia, e.g., recorded as marks, signs, sound waves, images or bits on paper, card, vinyl, film, magnetic tape, disk or CD.

Legal definitions of documents tend to characterise documents in similar ways. For example, in Australia, they are defined in legal terms as:

1.some physical thing or medium (= information-as-thing)

2.on which data are

3.more or less permanently recorded (=stored or fixed)

4.in such a manner that data can be subsequently retrieved (with the proper equipment) (=


R.A. Brown (1988). Documentary evidence in Australia . Sydney: The Law Book Company, p.9.


You might like to speculate, as Buckland does, on whether other sorts of information-as-thing have the same characteristics as documents? According to the definitions offered above, are tree rings, which 'accidentally' record information about variations in the weather and the growth of the tree, documents? Are fossils? Fingerprints? And what about the built environment, objects, artefacts, shipwrecks and ruins? Could a performance of music, dance or a play be a document? Or a ceremony or ritual, like a baptism or a marriage?


One of the models that information scientists have developed to explain the process of being informed is the Information Transfer Model:


Recipient Channel Informant
(Information Source) (Means of Informing) (The Informed)


The Informant could be an example of 'information-as-thing'. It could be a person or a machine. The Channel could be the media, the communication tool or technology, and value adding could occur during the channeling process. The Recipient could be another kind of 'information-as-thing', person or machine.


Take a few minutes to think about how you 'become informed'. What are the main sources of your information? Try representing your conclusions in terms of the model (with you as the Recipient).

Models developed to explore acts of communication may provide us with a much richer way of exploring the nature of documents. In what follows we will consider two such models.


Model for Constitution of Speech Event/Communication

Roman Jakobson. (1987). Language in literature . Cambridge, Mass: HUP, p. 66.

Jakobson says that six constituent factors make up a speech event. Consider his model, the way that he defines these constituent factors and how it might be used to analyse other kinds of communication and as the basis for defining information-as-communication.








Initiator of message (encoder).


Recipient of message (decoder).


May be oral/aural, visual, electronic (described by Jakobson as both physical channel and psychological connection, enabling addresser and addressee to enter and stay in communication).


speech, numbers, writing, sound formations, graphics, actions.


which must be understood by both addresser and addressee, and enables the message to 'make sense'.

Writing about this model, Terence Hawkes commented:

The central point to emerge from Jakobson's account of communication is that the 'message' does not and cannot supply all of the 'meaning' of the transaction, and that a good deal of what is communicated derives from the context, the code, and the means of contact. 'Meaning' in short resides in the total act of communication . . .

Terence Hawkes (1989). Structuralism and semiotics , Routledge, p.83.

Example: Information-as-communication

Taking the example of a lecture as comprising numerous acts of communication, we could analyse their constituent parts as follows:






Informational content of lecture (including what lecturer said and did, what was on a Powerpoint display, overheads, handouts and blackboard


Oral, aural, visual


Speech, writing, graphics, gestures


  • The immediate 'business' context - the activity (lecture).
  • The relationship between the addresser and the addressees and their mutual understandings of the roles they were playing, their standing and competencies.
  • The subject and the course
  • The university
  • The system of education
  • Shared social and cultural understandings
  • Shared language
  • Shared place and time.



Read David Kaufer and Kathleen Carley which is titled Communication at a distance: the influence of print on sociocultural organization and change . Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993, especially with reference to the Communicative Transactions Model on p.89. Parts of this text are digitised by the library for you. Consider the terms by Kaufer and Carley:


as individuals playing particular roles; or artificial agents, e.g. a document, a machine.

Communicative transactions

content (that which is communicated) code (material structure)

meaning (linked to context)

The context - social, cultural,

political, historical

the population - collection of individuals

the groups within the population the social structures in which individuals and groups interact/communicate the culture - norms, values, beliefs, knowledge the degree of integration - extent to which info and knowledge shared the technological condition - available technology as it limits and enables in terms of synchronicity/asynchronicity (can communication occur between agents in different places and times?) fixity and fidelity (can communication be retransmitted without change, ie fixed, complete, intact?) durability (can the communication be preserved, ie carried forward through time fixed, complete and intact?) multiplicity (can there be one-to-many or many-to-many interactions/communications?)

Figure 4.3 (p 144) is digitised in the library copy. Some things to note about the Kaufer and Carley model:

1.Communicative transactions occur between agents playing particular roles - the model draws our attention to the 'competencies' of the agents (their capacity to act in a particular role), and the relationships between the agents, the communicative transactions and the context.

2.It is a dynamic model - as agents communicate, those communicative transactions change the context in which further communicative transactions then take place:

Through the communicative transaction, individuals interact, communicate, adapt and repostion themselves in the sociocultural landscape. The communicative transaction is a cyclic process in which the full cycle is repeated each time period. Through each cycle of the transaction, social structure and culture co-evolve. (Kaufer and Carley, p.143.)

3.Different kinds of technology - drawing, writing, printing, photography, broadcasting, imaging and digital technology, electronic networking - limit and enable synchronicity/asynchronicity, fidelity and fixity, durability and multiplicity.

Andrew Treloar has applied the Kaufer and Carley model in his own research, and demonstrates that the communicative transactions actually occur amidst a maelstrom of other activities. The oblong in the middle of the ‘Communicative Transaction' box is a ‘Document':

Andrew's diagram can be found in a presentation which he gave in this subject at another time: at http://andrew.treloar.net/presentations/index.shtml , under the pdf link to ‘information-ecologies', slide number 7.


Try mapping the elements in the Information Transfer Model and the Speech Event Model against those in the Communicative Transactions Model. What elements do they have in common? What elements are unique? Reflect on the usefulness of the various models as conceptual tools, giving examples.


For a recent use of the ICM, and for a fuller description of it, see

Donald Schauder, Graeme Johanson, Larry Stillman (2005), ‘Sustaining and transforming a community network: The information continuum model and the case of VICNET', in

Journal of community informatics , v 1, no 2, at:

http://ci-journal.net/viewarticle.php?id=82&layout=abstract , in pdf or html.

© Graeme Johanson 20 July 2005.