information online

Advancing the practical and theoretical basis for how we conceptualise and shape the infosphere.

Photograph of workshop participants by David Peter Simon.

On June 27 the Ethics and Philosophy of Information Cluster at the OII hosted a workshop to foster a dialogue between the discipline of Information Architecture (IA) and the Philosophy of Information (PI), and advance the practical and theoretical basis for how we conceptualise and shape the infosphere. A core topic of concern is how we should develop better principles to understand design practices. The latter surfaces when IA looks at other disciplines, like linguistics, design thinking, new media studies and architecture to develop the theoretical foundations that can back and/or inform its practice. Within the philosophy of information this need to understand general principles of (conceptual or informational) design arises in relation to the question of how we develop and adopt the right level of abstraction (what Luciano Floridi calls the logic of design). This suggests a two-way interaction between PI and IA. On the one hand, PI can become part of the theoretical background that informs Information Architecture as one of the disciplines from which it can borrow concepts and theories. The philosophy of information, on the other hand, can benefit from the rich practice of IA and the growing body of critical reflection on how, within a particular context, the access to online information is best designed. Throughout the workshop, two themes emerged: The need for more integrated ways to reason about and describe (a) informational artefacts and infrastructures, (b) the design-processes that lead to their creation, and (c) the requirements to which they should conform. This presupposes a convergence between the things we build (informational artefacts) and the conceptual apparatus we rely on (the levels of abstraction we adopt), which surfaces in IA as well as in PI. At the same time, it also calls for novel frameworks and linguistic abstractions. This need to reframe the ways that we observe informational phenomena could be discerned in several contributions to the workshop. It surfaced in the more…

Online support groups are one of the major ways in which the Internet has fundamentally changed how people experience health and health care.

Online forums are important means of people living with health conditions to obtain both emotional and informational support from this in a similar situation. Pictured: The Alzheimer Society of B.C. unveiled three life-size ice sculptures depicting important moments in life. The ice sculptures will melt, representing the fading of life memories on the dementia journey. Image: bcgovphotos (Flickr)

Online support groups are being used increasingly by individuals who suffer from a wide range of medical conditions. OII DPhil Student Ulrike Deetjen’s recent article with John Powell, Informational and emotional elements in online support groups: a Bayesian approach to large-scale content analysis uses machine learning to examine the role of online support groups in the healthcare process. They categorise 40,000 online posts from one of the most well-used forums to show how users with different conditions receive different types of support. Online support groups are one of the major ways in which the Internet has fundamentally changed how people experience health and health care. They provide a platform for health discussions formerly restricted by time and place, enable individuals to connect with others in similar situations, and facilitate open, anonymous communication. Previous studies have identified that individuals primarily obtain two kinds of support from online support groups: informational (for example, advice on treatments, medication, symptom relief, and diet) and emotional (for example, receiving encouragement, being told they are in others’ prayers, receiving “hugs”, or being told that they are not alone). However, existing research has been limited as it has often used hand-coded qualitative approaches to contrast both forms of support, thereby only examining relatively few posts (<1,000) for one or two conditions. In contrast, our research employed a machine-learning approach suitable for uncovering patterns in “big data”. Using this method a computer (which initially has no knowledge of online support groups) is given examples of informational and emotional posts (2,000 examples in our study). It then “learns” what words are associated with each category (emotional: prayers, sorry, hugs, glad, thoughts, deal, welcome, thank, god, loved, strength, alone, support, wonderful, sending; informational: effects, started, weight, blood, eating, drink, dose, night, recently, taking, side, using, twice, meal). The computer then uses this knowledge to assess new posts, and decide whether they contain more emotional or informational support. With this approach we were able to determine the emotional or informational content of 40,000…