gives context, shape, and direction to complex questions regarding information

I wrote the following blog post about value from shareability and learnability in March 2014, for IMFacts. Unfortunately, this platform was deleted in 2015. That’s why I’m re-posting it on this website.

Everyone who works with information would like to know in advance how much certain information is worth. As Ard Huizing wrote in 2007, it’s easy enough to express the value of a rose in money, but the issue becomes a lot more complicated when you give the rose in question to a person you love. As an information professional, all of your work is essentially a bouquet of roses. That means it’s good to be able to estimate that a rose meant for the person you love is probably worth a lot to you, and much less to a random passerby.

This example might be very obvious, but there are countless possible real life scenarios that are far less simple. I believe that estimating the shareability and learnability of information can be a valuable tool in the estimation of the potential value of information.

Attributes of information

The value of information is impacted by countless qualities and attributes. In 2009, Guus Pijpers made this convenient list:

Qualities Attributes
Accessibility Ambiguity
Context Amount
Conversion Clarity
Culture Consumption
Intentionally Dynamics
Interdependency Inappropriability
Life cycle Undeterminacy
Medium Individuality
Physicality Knowledge
Scarcity Multiplicative Quality
Specificity Redundancy
Truth Supply
Uncertainty Usage

With a little effort, it’s possible to add even more qualities and attributes to these lists, which does not make the work of an information professional any easier.

Neither shareability nor learnability are on this list. I think the reason for that is that they exist at a higher – and perhaps more usable – level of aggregation. Many of the concepts are actually encompassed by shareability and learnability. To me, accessibility, quantity, medium and form are examples of shareability, while redundancy, knowledge, culture and truth are examples of learnability. I’ll give a brief explanation of both these terms.

Shareability

I define shareability as the degree to which certain information can be shared. Take, for instance, all the information involved in a large legal case. This is usually a massive amount of information, existing in various forms (confiscated items, bank records, recordings and reports of interrogations, photos, computer data, etc.). In addition, the witnesses must be protected, the victims want to remain anonymous, and the perpetrator is innocent until proven guilty. All this means that a large part of the information cannot be shared.

Compare that with this very blog post. It has been published online, and so it is accessible for everyone, through search engines, this website, the RSS feed, or a link sent via social media. This means the shareability of this blog is very high.

Learnability

I define learnability as the degree to which something can be learned from certain information.

Take once again the information from that large legal case. Although most of the information can’t be shared, many people are interested in it. The parts that can be shared often make the news. People use that information to form or confirm their own view of society, or to learn of the existence of a criminal subculture.

Compare this, once again, to this blog post. Although I hope to write an interesting and learnable article for the target group of IMFacts users, I don’t expect to make the evening news with it. That makes this information learnable to a relatively small group of people.

Value of information

Perhaps you could express the value of information as shareability multiplied by learnability, although I think both concepts are impossible to quantify. Even so, it’s possible to distinguish between several categories, as I have done in the table below. Of course, the situations in the table are exaggerated, and real life situations are often a mix of these categories.

Value in relation to shareability and learnability

Shareability and learnability could be indicators used to estimate the potential value of information. The real value does not exist until it is actually shared, and people actually learn from it. Only then is it possible for information to influence the thoughts and actions of the people around us, in big or small ways.

Those are my thoughts on the topic. Of course, there is still much room for more detailed research and confirmation. I’d be very interested in reading some possible applications for this way of thinking in the comments.