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Skip to 0 minutes and 2 seconds About any information system, there is a very important criterion. It’s how fresh the information that we look at is. Now this is very important because in English language, we have this term ‘up-to-date’. Even the term ‘up-to-date’ is outdated, because ‘up-to-date’ means that it is a one day fresh. Otherwise, it is a different date, so that’s the meaning of the term. Now, the only acceptable level of freshness today is the real time. The problem is that if we are in a large organisation, we have an information system that covers lots of things there. It means that something will be changing all the time.

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds So what is very important is that we do want the freshest of everything, but we don’t want everything that is fresh, OK? So if I need some information, that has to be real-time fresh, but it does not mean that as soon as anything changes, I should receive all sorts of messages. It would be very funny, for example, if FutureLearn implemented a feature which would notify me about every single contribution from the MOOC participants, because sometimes, probably, my computer would crash, because occasionally it happens that within an hour, there are a few thousand messages posted by the participants. So this we don’t want. So how we deal with this?

Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds And it is also possible that it is not only annoying us, but it can actually cause business problems to have the information too fresh. One of the big American car manufacturers had this kind of real-time information system implemented. And of course, the higher you were in the hierarchy, the more stuff you could see, which means that the guys at the top were able to see everything real-time. They have seen things that they have not seen before. They have seen what is going on on the shop floor. And occasionally, there are problems. The managers on the shop floor are perfectly capable of coping with these problems, and they have done it on countless occasions.

Skip to 2 minutes and 11 seconds However, at that time, the big bosses did not know about it. And now that they did, they started interfering with the jobs of the line managers. They called them in to talk to them, try to have them to fix these things, and what comes out is that they take part of the time of those managers at the shop floor level, but they also don’t do their own job. So in this case, the solution was actually to make it a little bit less fresh so the big bosses could still access any information, but only four hours’ delay. So the real time they only had for those things that directly is relevant to them. Now how we do this refreshing thing?

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 seconds If you don’t want to look at the screen all the time when something changes, the usual thing what is implemented in almost every information system is a time-based check, so every now and then it checks. Whether it is a few minutes or a few hours, it depends on what kind of information it is about. And of course, if you want to look at it in a particular time, then it will retrieve the real-time version of that particular information. However, this is not the real deal, isn’t it? Because it actually means that the information is delayed. It is grouped a little bit.

Skip to 3 minutes and 31 seconds So some of it will be real time when it is retrieved, but some of it will be outdated by a few minutes or even a few hours. So it is not really what you will need. The other version is that there are event-based refreshing cycles, which means if something happens, then I am notified if it is in my area. However, this could be done again much better if you used some AI this time. Not a learning algorithm, just a really complex set of rules, which will figure out whether that change requires any action from me. And if it requires action from me, then I am notified. If it is my boss, he will be notified.

Skip to 4 minutes and 14 seconds If it is my subordinate, he will be notified. So it is always going to the right place. Now this would be a very nice thing to do, and I think that we are moving towards this direction. However, this is all the easy part, because this is all about well structured information. What is much more difficult to handle is the ill-structured part. So just think about documents, documents that contain fluent text. So if you write a report, then your boss should be notified about that report. If it is about a project, there will be lots of different stages, so the report will be refreshed from time to time.

Skip to 4 minutes and 56 seconds But it might also have different versions for the engineers, then for the marketing people, and so on. It will also have different language versions if it is a transnational organisation. It means that there are countless versions of the same document. Of course, when you want to look at it, you should get the right version and the up-to-date version of it. However, it does not mean that you need to be notified about all sorts of changes that are happening in that system. There is not much we have to solve this problem yet.

Skip to 5 minutes and 30 seconds The only thing that we can play with is that we assign keywords to the documents that you upload, and that will define a channel– the combination of the keywords. About those things that I want to read, so what I’m interested in, I can also provide a keyword combination that will define a channel. And of course, these channels will meet somewhere in the information system. So I will be notified about those things that I’m interested in according to the rules that are embedded. However, how about new things? So let’s say that the creative guys came up with a new solution to a problem. We don’t have a word yet to describe that.

Skip to 6 minutes and 8 seconds So here again, only artificial intelligence could help, which would, based on the old keywords, figure out what new keywords would be relevant for me. So that’s where we are with the problem of the freshness.


It would be trivial to say that we want fresh information. In fact, freshness is one of the most important characteristics when we judge how good an IS is. However, there are far-reaching consequences of the concept of freshness.

Of course, the only acceptable level of freshness today is real-time. But what does this means? How to achieve it? What needs to be refreshed, when and how? If we look up some piece of information, that has to be real-time fresh. However, if we get the freshest of everything we have to rely on our computer all the time. You have certainly seen people who cannot stay away from Facebook for more than 30 seconds. On the contrary, many of us are also sometimes annoyed with the emails from our social media applications, constantly telling us about what is happening and to whom. Of course, if I look up where my friend is, I want to see real-time information. But I don’t want to be updated all the time where (s)he is at every moment. A good guideline would be to get an update when I need to do something about it or, in the terms of Bateson’s information concept, when it makes a difference.

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Understanding Information and Technology Today

University of Strathclyde