Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to Basics - Defining Data, Content, Experience, Information And Knowledge



The emerging fields of Content Management, Enterprise 2.0 and others introduce new concepts as well as modifications (new interpretations) of already existing concepts. There are often logical inconsistencies between key concepts such as data, content, information and knowledge, which cause confusion and complicate discussions and analysis. We find that it often helps to go back to basic definitions and to try to sort them out.


Some of the most basic concepts dealt with in our blog are outlined below (Philosophers and epistemologists must excuse our simplified but practical approach).

  • Data: Data is content that has been structured so hard (in order to be stored and accessed in an efficient way) that it does not provide enough context to the user to be usable on its own. It needs to be aggregated, formatted and described to be usable.
  • Content: Content is something that is indented to communicate a message from a sender to one or several receivers e.g. a diagram, a document or a digital asset such as picture or movie. The purpose of the message (e.g. the communication process) can be to inform the receiver about something or to create an experience. Digitized content is formatted and described in a way that it can easily be managed and delivered to the user with information technology.
  • Experience: The receiver (user) always gets some kind of experience when he/she interacts with digital content via some kind of device and software user interface. The sender might see the experience as a means to communicate the message to the user more efficiently, or the experience might be the actual message.
  • Information: When perceiving and interpreting content that is intended to inform the user about something, the user will hopefully understand the message. In other words, the content is transformed into meaningful information by cognitive processes in the user's head.
  • Knowledge: When the user reflects and applies the information, it can be transformed into knowledge.

The definitions above are intended to show that it is one thing to manage data and content, and another thing to manage information and knowledge. The point is that data and content can be managed with the means of (information) technology, but we cannot manage information and knowledge with technology alone since information and knowledge are created and exist only in the heads of humans.

We can try to conceptualize knowledge into information and capture it as digital content and then deliver it to the audience, but we cannot guarantee that the audience will understand it as we intended.

There are many discussions to be made around the mentioned definitions. What for example are your view on the commonly used term - information worker and knowledge worker? ;-)

1 comment:

  1. This sparked an entirely new train of thought when defining Knowledge Management.

    As you've stated, information and knowledge cannot be managed with technology alone. Could you expand on the idea of conceptualizing knowledge as informative digital content that the user would apply as knowledge? Do you have a good digital example you could provide that demonstrates managing the data > content > information > Knowledge outcome as you've defined it here?

    Intrigueing that this one article has me rethinking some new definitions for the 'management' part of KM.

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