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Communicating Information

We think there's a strong difference between the two. Information consists of statements about the world--preferably true statements. Communication is a connection between what's going on inside of me and what's going on inside of you. Information is true no matter who says it--a fact is a fact is a fact. Communication is personal, individual.

Or so the theory goes. In fact, the Web is showing us that the split was never well-formulated. Information may be presented in different ways, but it is always presented (or else we really don't care about it). If the information is statistical, it may be presented in columns or in charts. If it's locational, it may be presented as text directions or a map. If it's information about a product, it may be put into a table of specs or it may be written up for a glossy marketing brochure. But in every case, by the time information becomes something we care about, it's been communicated in particular ways.

Similarly, communication isn't simply the transferring of mental contents from one head to another. Usually we communicate about the things and events of the world. In fact, when we talk only about what's in our heads, there's usually someone there stroking his goatee, taking notes and charging us $120/hour. Communication tries to unveil the world to someone else the way it appears to us--it's much more outward directed than we usually think.

There's obviously, then, considerable overlap between information and communication. And the Web blurs the lines even more. People put up home pages usually not simply to inform but also to communicate, to connect with others through a shared interest. So, the pages reflect something of the person through content, color choice, graphics, layout, forms of interactivity.

But, is every page like that? How about one that aims at conveying Objective Information in its simplest form? How about a package-tracking page from Dell or a listing of airline schedules from Expedia? Even these sites aim at communicating, telling us more than just the facts, trying to create a "relationship" with us.

The Web inevitably tends toward communication because there's too much information around. Information by itself isn't enough to let us figure out which information to trust. We need more. We need communication. Communication is information with the meta-data we need to evaluate it.

So, when building your site, whether for the Internet or an intranet, don't inform--communicate.

David Weinberger is publisher of the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO) newsletter and a frequent contributor to KMWorld Magazine

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