Why Does This Problem Exist?

So why didn't someone do this before?

Up until Boswell came along, computers dealt with data, not information. Data is essentially a single fact like the current temperature. Whether that number is increasing or decreasing is another fact, but that it is 98 degrees and rising is information.

A collection of data was called a file and it was usually the same thing as the reel of tape that contained it. Tape reels fit in nicely in a hierarchy (Payments - 1971 - April) so data was organized on computers pretty much the way things worked in a general store in the 1890's. "Hey, Boss, where do I put these cans of corn? " "Canned goods - vegetables - corn." "Where do I put these cans of Lima beans? "  "Canned goods - vegetables - beans - Lima beans."

This works fine until ... "Hey, Boss, where do I put these cans of Succotash? " "Go to lunch."

Is it canned goods - vegetables - corn - Succotash or is it canned goods - vegetables - beans - Lima beans - Succotash? Or is it canned goods - vegetables- Succotash? Or is it canned goods - vegetables - specialty items- Succotash? Or is it canned goods - miscellaneous- Succotash?

We think of this as the Succotash Quandary. You are no longer dealing with data but information, which is several pieces of data and the relationship they have to each other, not just one easily described fact. Usually, the more different items of data in piece of information, the more valuable it is.

Information is not canned goods. Information is not the same thing as data; it is more. A hierarchical system that worked fine in the old general store or in the 1970's insurance company cannot handle an e-mail from Fred detailing his work on the Harris project, his prediction that it will be finished by July or maybe even June, and asking for some vacation time in January or February so he can go skiing.

A place for everything and everything in its place works for, well, things -- physical objects. Information is not a physical object; not a thing. It is a relationship between at least two (and usually much more) items of data. It cannot, by definition, have just one place just as a person cannot have just one ancestor.

If something is interesting enough to be preserved, it is probably because it says something about A in relation to B and also C and D. This is useful information. A by itself is just data.

Life is not tidy. It does not present information to you in an organized fashion. Chunks of information appear in a random order and the chunks themselves rarely deal with just one topic. The last thing it is is hierarchical, but hierarchical is pretty much the only system computers have had to deal with it.

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