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[abstraction] [aggregation] [archive] [class, classification] [data] [data architecture] [data warehouse] [generalization] [grain, granularity] [hauntology] [identity] [information] [interference] [leak, leakage] [negation] [object] [ontology] [palimpsest] [ratification] [reification] [screen]  

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Like many other things, LIGHT has changed in our understanding, from being particles to being waves to being something else.

This "progress" can be regarded as an increase in complexity or an increase in simplicity - or both.

Now perhaps it is the turn of INFORMATION to be rethought. Traditional notions of information (as particles of meaning) fail to account for interference, negation and other important phenomena.



Abstraction makes a model more powerful and broad by distancing it a little from the specific business situation we started with.

Abstraction clears away some of the specifics, and allows us to see the structure.  If abstraction is taken to the extreme, no specifics are left at all.  Except for skilled mathematicians, who are trained to understand highly abstract structures with no direct relationship to the real world, most people find such a model incomprehensible.  Thus abstraction should be practised in moderation, leaving a sufficient amount of specifics for the model to remain meaningful.

There are three methods of abstraction: aggregation, classification and generalization.

Veryard Project Papers Abstraction Notes on Aggregation, Classification and Generalization


Aggregation is the putting together of different things, to form a coherent whole.
Veryard Project Papers Abstraction by Aggregation



See also Data Warehouse

IT practitioners have a specialized meaning of archive. It's what we do to data that nobody ought to want any more, but we aren't allowed to delete it altogether, so we wipe it off the main database and stuff it onto tapes in a vault and God help anyone who wants to read it.

But Derrida draws attention to the fact that the prefix arche (found in both archive and architecture) represents a starting point or founding act in both an ontological sense (this is whence it began) and a nomological sense (this is whence it derives its authority).

Veryard Project Papers Archive Fever Review of book by Derrida

Modelling History Notes on information and object modelling for historical and archive data

Class, Classification

One of the ways we simplify and make sense of the world is by dividing people and things into classes.
Defining a class in terms of specific features 
Features common to all members of a given class
Defining a class in terms of characteristic features 
Features likely to belong to an object of a given class

Information Scientists have usually assumed class membership can be defined monothetically, despite Wittgenstein’s famous counter-example, based on his definition of the class GAME.

Whereas operational entity types (such as EMPLOYEE) can usually be defined monothetically, strategic entity types (such as COMPETITIVE THREAT) often cannot. The behaviour of an entity is usually a characteristic feature, rather than a specific feature.  A definition of a class in terms of what the occurrence might do (as with COMPETITOR or DANGEROUS DOG) is even more difficult to manage. 

Veryard Project Papers Sorting and Classification

Classification as form of Abstraction


Recommended Book Geoffrey C. Bowker & Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences.  MIT Press 1999


see also Archive, Information

Data means: that which is given (to an organization or community) (from the past).

Among the data there will be records of recent transactions and decisions, results of surveys and analyses, mixed up with a lot of much older stuff. But in order for an organization to assimilate these various data, the data must themselves be organized. And for learning to take place, data must be reorganized.

And this is where we slip into infinite loops. The organization that organizes and reorganizes its own data, its own memory, its own archive, is thereby organizing and reorganizing itself.

The traditional IT view of data is of something that can be Created, Read, Updated and Deleted - sometimes known as CRUD. This appears to be true of "physical" data storage, where the binary patterns on a magnetic disk can be rearranged or erased (although techniques exist for reading supposedly erased data - see Palimpsest). But from a "logical" business viewpoint there are only two meaningful operations: Read and Write.

Veryard Project Papers Data Modelling

Data Mapping and Translation

Data (Retrieval) and Operations (Retrieval)

Data Architecture

The mission for data architecture is to create stable and flexible data structures that support the requisite business processes and business judgements. This requires an understanding of the ethic of information creation and use, by and for the organization.

In my 1994 book, following Christopher Alexander, I postulated the ethic of the data architect as an ethic of repair: on a never-ending quest to mend the holes in the fabric. For the post-modern data architect, in contrast, the holes attract attention in their own right. 

Veryard Project Papers Information Architecture (pdf)

Data Warehouse

See also Archive

A data warehouse can be described from the outside as a very large component offering a range of data services, through a number of well-defined interfaces. Internally, the data warehouse may be implemented through multiple heterogeneous mechanisms, and may even be distributed across multiple platforms / locations, which suggests a component-based internal architecture, but this complexity can be hidden from data users.

This approach separates two aspects of Data Warehousing:

Veryard Project Papers Virtual Data Warehouse


Progressive decomposition or decapsulation – getting more and more detail and complexity on demand.


Generalization is the putting together of similar things, by selectively ignoring their differences.  For example, photocopiers are not the same as computers, but a model might usefully lump them together as OFFICE EQUIPMENT ITEM.

Generalization is a useful way of reducing the number of classes or types in a model.  Generalization is unavoidable in building an information model, since without any generalization at all, each type would only have one occurrence.

The key question is not whether to generalize at all, but how much to generalize, and where to stop generalizing.

Some people see the similarities between things more easily than they see the differences, thus they want to lump the objects being modelled into relatively few classes, to gain generality. Others tend to see the differences more readily than the similarities, so they want to split the model, to divide the objects between a larger number of more narrowly defined classes, to gain precision. The tension between lumpers and splitters is a perennial one.

Veryard Project Papers Abstraction by Generalization

Lumpers and Splitters

Component Generalization


see also Hautology
A representation of something that no longer exists -- or perhaps never existed.

The destruction of an object does not result in the destruction of its representation. This is why people believe in ghosts - because they cannot accept that when loved ones die, their names and their memories no longer refer to anything - and because they cannot accept a similar lack of reference for their own ideas after their own death.   Ideas may carry on, but no longer refer to anything outside themselves.  The life of a concept continues for longer than the life of the physical object.

Grain, Granularity

Grain is a term that originates in photography. It refers to the degree of detail and precision contained in an image - the pixels or dots per inch - or preserved and communicated by a given medium, such as a film or screen.

An image is grainy if the imprecision is visible - in other words,  even if you can't see the individual dots, you can see that the image is composed of dots.

In information management, granularity refers to the degree of detail or precision contained in data. In modelling, granularity refers to the degree of detail and precision contained in a model.

Veryard Project Papers Grain and Granularity

Privacy and Granularity


If ontology is a pretentious way of referring to what there is, hauntology is a tongue-in-cheek way of referring to what there isn't.

Derrida invented the term ‘hauntology’ to refer to the logic of the ghost. In French, the word ‘hauntology’ sounds identical to the word ‘ontology’, which it is part of Derrida’s purpose to critique.

Traditional data methodologies have been fairly naïve about ontology, and Derrida’s coinword provides us with clues for deconstructing these methodologies and the systems that have resulted from them. But further, the word points to the fact that data frequent organizations, like the traces of past events.

Data are spectral/imaginary. They provide a view/image/spectre of the organization and/or its environment. Data architecture, on the other hand, is an attempt to impose a symbolic order/logic onto the raw data.

In the absence of daylight, we are haunted by ghosts and moths, which pass through walls and create holes in beloved fabrics. In my 1994 book, following Christopher Alexander, I postulated the ethic of the data architect as an ethic of repair: on a never-ending quest to mend the holes in the fabric. For the post-modern data architect, in contrast, the holes attract attention in their own right.


Identity means - how do we recognize or refer to something as the same again. The ancients knew two stars, the morning star and the evening star - but these turned out to be different manifestations of the same planet (Venus). The customer who has just bought a sack of potatoes happens to be the same person who bought a chip pan from the hardware store next door (which we might discover if we had access to his credit card information).

For many purposes, two things are the same if we cannot tell them apart. Identity amounts to a lack of difference. And we can define information as "a difference that makes a difference" (Bateson - see below).

Veryard Project Papers Identity and Difference

Who Owns Your Mother's Maiden Name?

Internet Identity Theft


. data-in-context

information equals data plus meaning

The equation information equals data plus meaning remains important, but it is not universally true, and needs to be demonstrated for particular circumstances.

If meaning is the result of an interpretation, then the process of interpretation needs to be visible. If we accept Wittgenstein's slogan: meaning is use, then we often want to think of information as data in the context of some human (or at least conscious, intentional) use/purpose.

. negative entropy

information as the unlikely

This is a definition, taken from the communication theory of Shannon and Weaver, which lots of people cite  -- and then ignore.
. fact

all that is the case

Wittgenstein defined the world in terms of information.
. difference

a difference that makes a difference

Bateson defined information in terms of difference. Our decisions are based, not on the absolute value of a given attribute of a given object, but on a comparison between values.  Information (as opposed to raw data) requires a context that makes such comparison meaningful.

Within traditional information modelling, an attribute that makes a difference is known as a state attribute.  Differences are made up of states.  States, in the form of conditions, can be composed into rules.


see also Management Interference
Information doesn't obey simple arithmetic.  One of the reasons is interference, a complex phenomenon that occurs when you try to put two or more items of information together.

In school physics, you find out (with some surprise) that if you make two pinholes in a card, you don't just get twice as much light through. Similarly, if you have two items of information from two adjacent sources, that doesn't mean you've got twice as much information.

If I buy two newspapers, does that mean I get twice as much information? Of course not. And if an organization receives two different messages on the same subject from different sources, they may sometimes reinforce one another, sometimes cancel one another out, among other possibilities. As far as I know, these interference patterns in information have never been properly studied.
Thus, like light, information isn't additive. Whereas data is additive: 50 bytes plus 50 bytes equals 100 bytes.
Veryard Project Papers Interference

Regulation Interference

Leak, Leakage

The flow of information across controlled and supposedly secure boundaries - usually from protected to unprotected, or from private to public.
Veryard Project Papers Information Leakage


There are many paradoxes associated with the negation of information -- a complex phenomenon that occurs when you try to subtract (or erase) information. NOT NOT P is not identical to P. This is another one of the reasons why information doesn't obey simple arithmetic.

Suppose that an announcement is made on the television news. There has been a fire at a sugar warehouse. Shortages of sugar are expected. Consumers are requested not to hoard sugar, and only buy enough for their short-term needs.

What's the likely response to this announcement? People will rush to the nearest supermarket and clear the shelves of sugar. The prediction of a sugar shortage is self-fulfilling.

Now suppose an opposite announcement. There has been a minor fire at a sugar warehouse, which was quickly put out. Stocks of sugar are unaffected, and no shortages of sugar are expected.

What's the likely response to this announcement? As before, people will rush to the nearest supermarket and clear the shelves of sugar.
Stubborn information - refuses to be erased, resists eradication. (Try to get rid of a bad credit report, a hostile press statement, or even a completely groundless rumour.)
Information goes underground - it's still there somewhere, even though it's not visible any more - and may come back to haunt you. (Something may seem to be forgotten, but it suddenly pops up again - and always at the most inconvenient time.)


See also Reification
Leibniz called them monads, and thought of them as two-storey houses. Downstairs is the public area, where you entertain guests. Upstairs is the private area, reserved for sleep, sex, and other spiritual matters.

The OO view of object is remarkably similar. They have a public reception area, known as the interface, and a private area, known as the internals. The world consists of interactions between these objects.

Veryard Project Papers Reification as a form of Materialism

Software Objects and Mediaeval Thought
The relevance of Arab and Christian philosophy to object thinking

Internet Links Cetus Links: Objects and Components



A fancy word for what there is – what objects exist.  A theory – either explicit or implicit – about what objects exist.
The term has become fashionable of late, because of the growing recognition that different people, different organizations possess different ontologies.  Effective communication therefore requires either establishing shared ontologies or establishing reliable translations between different ontologies.

For practical purposes, ontologies are only interesting when they're different or volatile -- in other words when two people or organizations each have a different conception of what things and relationships there are in the world.  Or perhaps the conceptions are themselves changing or unstable. These differences or changes have important implications for communication and collaboration between business and systems.

Establishing the ontology of a strange tribe – such as “users” or “customers” – is fraught with error, misunderstanding and
misinterpretation.  The American philosopher WVO Quine argued that we can never be entirely sure we’ve fully grasped someone else’s ontology – and that translation can therefore never be proved correct. Despite this, I still believe that better communication usually justifies practical effort.

Veryard Project Papers Ontology
Muggle Ontology
Internet Links Ontology.Org


A memory device which retains traces of previous data or versions. For example, magnetic media that allow erased data to be restored (using special techniques), humans that retain unconscious memories or habits from the past, organizations that preserve traces of previous structures or processes. Detectives and archaeologists can reconstruct the past, can follow inexpertly doctored audit trails, can deconstruct legacy.


Punctuation refers to the way that a complex communication process – perhaps a complex negotiation or exchange of information – is broken down into discrete messages or speech acts.

Where feedback loops or learning loops are involved, punctuation also refers to the start point – where to break into the loop.

Punctuation is often subjective or arbitrary.  Different analysts may punctuate a communication process in radically different ways.  This critically affects the perceived structure of the situation.  Is A helping B, or is B coaching A?  Is C commanding D, or is D controlling C?  Who is controlling whom, who is proactive and who reactive?

Punctuation is therefore an essential component of sensemaking.

Ratification, Reification

The object-oriented paradigm relies on seeing the world as a collection of objects. There are excellent techniques for creating objects out of processes, out of relationships, or perhaps even out of nothing.  Philosophers and software engineers have a word for this; they call it reification.

When relationships are regarded as things, this usually focuses attention either on the bridging mechanism, or on a static snapshot of the relationship, as for example represented by a legal contract.  When processes or services are regarded as things, this usually focuses attention on the deliverable or end-result.

The object-oriented way of describing components is extremely useful, especially for designing and managing components.  It is also useful for describing the behaviour of components, and their performance in complex environments.  But there are limitations to an object-oriented view of systems and components. Sometimes we need the reverse procedure - to understand things as dynamic clusters of activities and relationships. We call this ratification

Veryard Project Papers Reification and Ratification

Reification as a form of Materialism

Software Objects and Mediaeval Thought
The relevance of Arab and Christian philosophy to object thinking


All social systems are technically mediated. We get an increasing amount of our information about our social world through
technical media: email, telephone, management information systems, television, Reuters newswire. These technologies screen information for us, screen information from us.

The computer offers information as services through a screen. The screen is both literal and metaphorical. It is a surface on which the data are presented, and also a filter that controls what the user sees. The screen is a two-sided device -- it both reveals information and hides information.

Veryard Project Papers The Give and Take of Information
WIGO - what is going on


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This page last updated on November 11th, 2003
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