Did you ever wonder why you organise your information the way you do? What the strengths and weaknesses of that way of organising are? Did you? This article introduces a systematic way of organising information. A way that – most likely – differs qualitatively from your current ideas and practices with respect to organising information. So, please, be prepared for a horse of a different colour!
Your current way of organising information can best be characterised as specific. Unfortunately such a way of organising information is totally unfit for use at an Information Roundabout. Successfully operating an Information Roundabout requires quite another organisation of your information: a systematic one.
Currently, you organize your information – depending on the specific problem you face – in a specific way: a way that exactly matches a specific set of situations annex behaviour. You investigate the specific problem you face – no more, no less. You strictly stick to the problem’s scope. You design entities just as far as the scope allows you to. You design and relate attributes to these entities. You precisely define the meaning of the established entities and associated attributes. You relate these entities and arrange them into a specific information model – fully tailored to the needs of the specific problem you face.
The very problem with specific information models (organisations of information) is that they’re… specific. Any specific model only matches one specific set of situations very well. Other sets of situations, of course, need other specific models. As said: such specific organisations of information are of no use at an Information Roundabout. Why? An Information Roundabout is an infrastructural facility that needs to support lots of situations for many participants simultaneously. Very much like traffic.
You might have noticed that specific information models nowadays don’t durably match your ever developing situations annex responsibilities. Specific models – including the application systems that are built on them rather quickly loose much of their value and function. Why? Because of ever changing situations – indeed: full-blown information society – that require ever other models including supporting application systems.
The solution for this specific as well as problematic organisation of your information is a systematic one. A systematic organisation of information enables you to build/use many application systems that all individually as well as simultaneously connect to one single Information Roundabout to acquire/supply their – now systematically organised – information. Your current integration issues will then fade away. Your application systems (or new releases of it) will then become easily and quickly interchangeable; very much like expansion boards in computers….
The systematic organisation of information that is used at an Information Roundabout effectively uncouples the ‘being’ of information (at an Information Roundabout) from its ever varying and increasingly various uses (in application systems).
Designing a systematic organisation of information starts with enlarging your view on the elements in the identified problem area. You stop restricting yourself to problem P in the current situation S of customer C. In other words: as a designer  you dismiss the problem scope in order to be able to create a systematic organisation of information to be used at the Information Roundabout in favour of all of its various and varying customers: participants in information traffic.
While enlarging you systematically look for real differences and similarities (intexts) with respect to all elements in all relevant situations (contexts) . This process leads you to quite another information model (organisation of information): a systematic one. One that’s perfectly fit for use at an Information Roundabout.
Let me give you a small example: your business partners are not only your business partners but (usually) are business partners in general – i.e. business partners to virtually any and all. And a business partner in general is always a legal person to begin with. In this way you yourself become an explicit participant in the model too. And now, the other way around, as a legal person you can manifest in many ways – one of them being a business partner in general. And, in turn, a business partner in general can also manifest in many ways – one of them being your business partner as you see fit.
Specific modelling would have given you a specific entity: “Business Partner” – precisely fitting your problem P in situation S for customer C. Systematic modelling, however, supplies you with a number of interrelated information nodes from which you can situationally compose many, many kinds of (slightly) different business partners. The one you need: the business partner that fits your problem P in situation S for customer C. But also business partners that fit others in their specific situations. And all compositions are based on the same – now systematically organised – information available at the Information Roundabout for all participants in information traffic.
As you might have noticed: thanks to a systematic organisation of information used at an Information Roundabout two nasty problems get easily as well as elegantly solved. Systematic organisation of information by definition prevents information inconsistencies. Endless duplication of information simply ceases to exist at the level of an Information Roundabout as a true information infrastructure.
October 2011, Copyright (c) 2011 – Jan van Til/Information Roundabout
1. As a designer you dismiss the problem scope… Why? Well, you’re headed for an organisation of information that works at an Information Roundabout and fits many participants in information traffic. But as a constructor, building a specific application system to solve problem P in situation S for Customer C, you, of course, do stick to the problem scope – now using the information provisioning facilities of an Information Roundabout.
2. Both terms, intext and context, are explained in more detail in the article Semiotic Ennead present on this website.