Are you able to make an informed decision? What about a knowledgeable one? Over time, society has blurred the line between information and knowledge. While this is generally unimposing on the majority of the world, it is especially frustrating in the context of Information Systems. While information is the collection or aggregation of raw data, knowledge is the interpretation and use of that information in practice. Despite their differences, both are difficult to manage in today's world do to the largely unregulated Internet, diversity in organizations, and subjective interpretations.
Information is raw data - it's unprocessed, unfiltered, and often uninteresting. More specifically, information is often the collection or aggregation of raw data. It often answers questions that begin with "which", "what", or "where." Which company paid the highest dividend on stocks in 2010? Where is the most densely populated African American population in the United States? These are all examples of information. Information can be presented in a variety of fashions including spreadsheets, databases, books, articles, and even orally. Examples of information might include population data from the US census report, a grade book for a particular course, or even a receipt from a grocery store. While information is sometimes useful, it lacks the ability to generate meaningful conclusions on its own.
To draw a metaphor, imagine the construction of a typical pepperoni pizza. First the crust is constructed using water, flour, and sugar. Next, sauce and cheeses are added delicately onto the crust. Finally, the pepperonis are carefully placed on top of the cheese, and the pizza is put into the oven. Alone, the water, flour, sugar, sauce, cheese, and pepperoni are irrelevant. It's not until you have combined, molded, and meshed all the ingredients together that something meaningful and tangible is produced - in this case a pizza. Information and knowledge are similarly related – information is a collection of raw materials that, when combined and analyzed, produce knowledge.
Drawing a parallel between our explanation of information, knowledge often answers questions that begin with "how" or "why."" How should I invest my money given the company that paid the highest dividends on stocks in 2011? Why is Georgia the most densely populated African American population in the United States? These are questions that could be answered with knowledge. While a company's weekly sales report is information, taking that information, analyzing and aggregating it, and deciding which production should be advertised next week is knowledge. Knowledge is conclusive and often requires a personal connection or reflection with the information at hand.
Information and knowledge are incredibly difficult to manage in today's society. With the construction of vast networks, including the Internet, millions of gigabytes of information are consumed every second across the world. Given that the Internet is relatively unregulated (especially in the United States), it's seemingly possible for anyone to post inaccurate or blatantly false information that is publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. On the flip side, in an organization, it's often difficult to circulate important information to all employees in an effective manner. Knowledge is always difficult to manage because it's subjective, since knowledge is essentially the interpretation of information.
In conclusion, information and knowledge, although dependent on one another, are drastically different concepts. While information is the collection or aggregation of raw data, knowledge is the interpretation of that information in practice. However, it is clear to see that, despite their differences, both are difficult to regulate and manage in today's world.
Seth Vargo is an engineer at Google. Previously he worked at HashiCorp, Chef Software, CustomInk, and some Pittsburgh-based startups. He is the author of Learning Chef and is passionate about reducing inequality in technology. When he is not writing, working on open source, teaching, or speaking at conferences, Seth advises non-profits.